Some areas of the world are fortunate enough to be rabies-free. However, there’s a closely related virus that is of concern in many of these areas: European bat lyssavirus (EBLV). This virus is present in bats in various countries and can occasionally be transmitted to other animals. A recent report in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases describes EBLV infection in two cats in France. Both cats died, although the actual cause of death of one of them was uncertain (the animal was also infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)).
Infection with EBLV in domestic animals is very rare. The risk to dogs and cats is probably very low, but obviously not zero. Avoiding contact with bats is always a good idea. Even in rabies-free areas, measures should be undertaken to keep bats out of houses, and people or animals should never touch sick or injured bats.
The risk to humans from infected domestic animals is unclear. It is thought that dogs and cats pose little risk for further transmission. While susceptible to infection, they are unlikely to transmit EBLV, probably because they produce very low levels of virus. Although there are no clear data about using standard rabies prophylaxis for the prevention of EBLV, it is believed that it would be effective if the virus was transmitted from an infected animal to a person. One cat in this report bit a veterinarian, who received a rabies vaccine booster since he/she had previously been vaccinated against rabies. Fifteen people who were exposed to the second cat underwent the recommended rabies post-exposure series of shots as a precaution.
Even in rabies-free areas, bites from bats or other wild animals should be taken seriously. They should immediately be cleaned thoroughly with lots of soap and water, and medical attention should be sought.
A big problem with EBLV is that it can be very difficult to diagnose. In this Emerging Infectious Disease report, several different tests were used and results were inconsistent. Multiple tests are probably needed to make a diagnosis. It’s possible, therefore, that without this kind of comprehensive testing cases could be missed.
Overall, EBLV is a minor concern for public health, but is yet another reason to just use common sense – avoid contact with bats and treat bite wounds carefully, even in rabies-free areas.