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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 11:01 GMT
Safety pledge after rabies death
Daubenton's Bat
Mr McRae worked with bats for many years
Scotland's main conservation agency has vowed to continue restrictions on the number of people handling bats following the first fatal case of rabies in the UK for 100 years.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has been carrying out a detailed risk assessment after 56-year-old David McRae, from Angus, contracted European Bat Lyssavirus (EBL), a rare strain of the infection.

Almost all of the 101 bat handling licences issued by SNH were suspended after Mr McRae was admitted to Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

He died on Sunday evening, just hours after tests confirmed he had contracted the condition.


The only way anyone could be at risk is if somebody who is not supposed to be handling bats is bitten and doesn't know about it

George Anderson
SNH

Rabies is a serious infection of the nervous system that is caused by a virus which is usually transmitted by a bite from an infected animal.

Mr McRae, who was licensed to handle bats, was thought to have been bitten by one of the creatures on at least one occasion.

The Oldham-born wildlife artist moved to Angus three years ago and spent much of his time painting and working with bats.

SNH spokesman George Anderson said it would review working practices in the light of the fatality.

He said: "It's something we have to look at. Everything is up for review.

"All but a handful of licences have been suspended until we know what the risks are and what procedures need to be put in place.

'Dracula nonsense'

"Now we have made sure everybody's safe, we need to work with a wide range of experts in areas like human health and infectious diseases."

Mr Anderson said there was no risk to the public from bats and no evidence to suggest the virus could be transmitted to other animals such as dogs and foxes.

He said: "The only way anyone could be at risk is if somebody who is not supposed to be handling bats is bitten and doesn't know about it.

David McRae
Mr McRae died from a rare strain of rabies

"Bats do suffer from a public image that is informed by horror movies, and that image isn't an accurate one.

"Bats don't bite anything bigger than a moth unless they are provoked severely by someone handling them.

"I think people really need to clear their heads of all the Dracula nonsense and be sensible about how they view them."

A cull of the bat population would be impractical, Mr Anderson said.

He urged people not to make assumptions as to the exact source of the illness.

A helpline has also been set up to offer reassurance and advice.

The number is 0800 783 5066.

See also:

24 Nov 02 | Scotland
24 Nov 02 | Scotland
20 Nov 02 | England
19 Nov 02 | Scotland
19 Nov 02 | Scotland
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