A rare case of viral rabies infection has claimed the life of a Vancouver Island man.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the man came into contact with a bat in mid-May and developed symptoms compatible with rabies six weeks later.
Henry said while the exposure in the fatal case was on Vancouver Island, bats in all areas of B.C. are known to carry rabies.
“To ensure privacy for the family, no further information on the individual will be released,” Henry said.
Family members, close community contacts and health-care workers who cared for the man are being assessed and given post-exposure rabies preventive measures, if needed.
The most recent case of human rabies in B.C. was in 2003. In Canada, there have been 24 known cases since the 1920s. The most recent cases in Canada were in Ontario in 2012 and in Alberta in 2007.
If anyone in B.C. comes in contact with a bat (even if there is no obvious bite or scratch), they should wash the area with soap and water, then get to a health-care provider immediately.
Henry said medical staff will assess the risk of rabies and may provide a vaccine to prevent infection.
Bats are the only known carriers of the rabies virus in the province. About 13 per cent of bats tested in B.C. are positive for rabies. This presents an ongoing risk for people and their pets and pet owners are urged to ensure their animals’ rabies vaccinations are up to date.
Symptoms of the disease in people include:
• increasing difficulty in swallowing
• excessive drooling
• muscle spasm or weakness
• strange behaviour
The majority of people with rabies die of the disease.
Symptoms of the disease in animals include:
Animals with rabies may act strangely, but not always act aggressively. They may show a variety of signs, including fearfulness, aggression, lethargy, appearing unusually tame, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, paralysis, staggering and seizures. Infected animals usually die within 10 days from when they first appear sick.
Bats infected with rabies may also act strangely. Bats are usually active at night. If you see bats during the day, they may not be normal. Weakness and lack of flight may be a result of rabies or other infections such as white nose syndrome. Some bats with rabies may appear to behave normally.
Some of the signs described above may have other causes including other illnesses, self-protection, heat, stress, hunger and becoming accustomed to humans.
More information about rabies and its transmission https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/rabies.https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/rabies