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B.C. man dies of rabies after contact with a bat on Vancouver Island

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, has confirmed a rare case of viral rabies infection in a British Columbia resident, who has subsequently died.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, has confirmed a rare case of viral rabies infection in a British Columbia resident, who has subsequently died.

The man was in contact with a bat in mid-May but did not develop symptoms compatible with rabies until six weeks later.

VANCOUVER, B.C. —

A B.C. man has died of rabies after coming in contact with a bat on Vancouver Island.

The Ministry of Health says the 21-year-old man was in contact with a bat in mid-May, but did not develop symptoms compatible with rabies until six weeks later.

He died Saturday at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

The man, whose name is not being released, had no visible bite or scratch marks.

“The thing with bats is their teeth are very small and their bite marks can be microscopic and you might not even notice them,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “Bats also lick themselves and the rabies virus has been found on the outside of their body, so if a bat brushes against you the virus can be transmitted through a mucus membrane, via your eyes or mouth.”

Henry, says family members, close community contacts and health-care workers who cared for this person are being assessed and given post-exposure rabies preventive measures, if needed.

It’s the first confirmed death from rabies in B.C. since 2003.

In Canada, there have been only 24 known cases since the 1920s, with the most recent in Ontario in 2012 and Alberta in 2007.

Henry said a six-week incubation period for the rabies virus is not unusual.

“Sometimes the window can be many months … but once symptoms start to show it is almost universally fatal,” said Henry. “And it can be a real puzzle to figure out because rabies symptoms — tingling, weakness, fever, headaches — can be caused by a whole variety of things.”

About 13 per cent of bats tested in B.C. are positive for rabies and the Health Ministry says this presents a continuing risk for people and pets.

“It is important to ensure pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date. If you believe your pet has had contact with a bat, consult your veterinarian,” the ministry said in a release.

Health Canada says between 2006 and 2010, a total of 1,005 cases of confirmed animal rabies were reported in Canada.

Bats are the only known carriers of the rabies virus in the province.

Anyone who comes in contact with a bat, even if there is no obvious bite or scratch, are advised to wash the area with soap and water and then consult a health-care provider immediately.

The treatment for someone who has been exposed to rabies is a series of shots that includes one dose of rabies immune globulin that helps neutralize the virus before it becomes established, and four doses of rabies vaccine given over 14 days that help the immune system make antibodies to fight the virus.

sbrown@postmedia.com

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What are the symptoms of rabies in people?

• Headache

• Fever

• Increasing difficulty in swallowing

• Excessive drooling

• Muscle spasm or weakness

• Strange behaviour


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