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 adult male was in contact with a bat in mid-May 2019 and developed symptoms compatible with rabies six weeks later.
While the exposure in this 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.
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.
The most-recent case of human rabies in B.C. was in 2003. Overall, in Canada, there have been only 24 known cases since the 1920s. The most-recent cases in Canada were in Ontario in 2012 and Alberta in 2007.
If anyone in B.C. comes in contact with a bat (even if there is no obvious bite or scratch), wash the area with soap and water. Then consult a health-care provider or local public health department immediately. They 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% of bats tested in B.C. are positive for rabies. This presents an ongoing risk for people and for companion animals, such as cats and dogs. 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.
More information about rabies and its transmission can be found at HealthLinkBC: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/rabies