COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health.
COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health. Kate McCormack

Flying fox disease risk: fact vs fiction

THE PROSTON Community Hall was packed last night as residents gathered for an information evening to discuss a persistent problem the town can't seem to shake.

A colony of little red flying foxes has been calling Proston home for almost six months now.

The population is estimated to be well over a million and resides right on the community's door step, just a couple of hundred meters from the town's primary school and public swimming pool.

Following the community's requests the South Burnett Regional Council organised a community information session which was held last night, November 20, in the Proston Community Hall.

The forum focused solely on the public and equine health risks associated with flying foxes, with council representatives saying another public meeting would be held next month to discuss potential management options.

Last night's session dealt with information pertaining to hendra and Australian Bat Lyssavirus with guest speakers including Biosecurity Queensland senior inspector John Higgins and Darling Downs Public Health Unit Director, Dr Penny Hutchinson.

 

COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health.
COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health. Kate McCormack

The session presented information about the risks of both viruses and ways to manage and minimise risk of contraction, with a major focus on the well-being and safety surrounding children and ABLV.

Since 1996, three people have died in Australia as a result of ABLV infection and the last victim was an eight-year-old boy in 2013.

All parties present at last night's meeting were in agreement that more needed to be done to educate the local school children about the dangers flying foxes present.

It is believed only five per cent of flying foxes within a colony carry the virus, but with over a million little red flying fox inhabitants in Proston right now, there could be an estimated 50,000 infected animals flying around town.

A number of residents voiced their concerns about the state of their drinking water with so many flying foxes passing over their houses twice a day.

Dr Hutchinson made it clear the only way humans could contract ABLV was through direct contact with an infected bat or flying fox's saliva, via bite or scratch.

"There is no evidence that suggests you can contract lyssavirus through a contaminated animal's urine or faeces. Not even if they defecate or urinate in your water tank," Dr Hutchinson said.

As for hendra virus, both guest speakers wanted it known the virus was only know to be contracted from an infected horse to human, not via a a bat or flying fox carrying the virus.

"There is no documented evidence of hendra virus affecting other forms of livestock," Mr Higgins said.

"The best thing owners can do is to vaccinate their horses and reduce the risk of animals coming into contact with the flying foxes.

 

COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health.
COMMUNITY INFO EVENING: Proston residents gathered in the Community Hall last night to hear information about the flying foxes and the viruses they carry. Guest speakers included John Higgins from Biosecurity Queensland and Dr Penny Hutchinson from Queensland Health. Kate McCormack

"Keep your horses' feed and water covered and away from the flowering trees when the flying foxes are known to feed and practice good hygiene around your horses with appropriate protective clothing and hand washing."

The take-home message from last night's meeting was for community members to reduce their risks by limiting their contact with the flying foxes.

"If a flying fox ends up in your yard, do not approach it. Even if the animal is already dead, do not handle it. Call the appropriate authorities to come and deal with the animal," Dr Hutchinson said.

"It's important to educate your children not to approach the flying foxes, but to also let an adult know immediately if they have come into contact with one."

If a bite or scratch from an infected bat or flying fox has occurred the Queensland government will fund the vaccination against ABLV.

Vaccinations can cost upwards of $100 per shot and humans require three injections of the vaccine before they are deemed immune to the virus.

"If parents want to vaccinate their children as a precaution it's up to them. But we don't want this to provide them with a false sense of security. You do need to receive three injections to be covered," Dr Hutchinson said.

South Burnett

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