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Man dies of rabies after coming in contact with bat on Vancouver Island

Last Updated Jul 16, 2019 at 11:01 pm EDT

Summary

A 21-year-old man is dead from rabies after contracting the virus on Vancouver Island in mid-May


He died in St. Paul's Hospital


It is the first case of human rabies in B.C. since 2003


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s an incredibly rare case in B.C. and for just the second time in more than 15 years, someone in has died after contracting rabies.

The health ministry says a 21-year-old man came into contact with the bat in mid-May, but symptoms related to rabies didn’t appear right away, which is normal for the virus as it often takes several weeks. By the time he started showing signs of rabies, it was too late, and he passed away at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on July 13.

Whether the man was bitten or scratched is not being released right now, but if you come in contact with a bat, even if there’s no obvious sign of a bite or scratch, you’re being told to wash it with the area with soap and water.

Rabies symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Increasing difficulty in swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Muscle spasm or weakness
  • Strange behaviour
    (Source: HealthLinkBC)

 

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s top doctor, says if you get rabies and it’s not treated right away, it’s almost always fatal and there isn’t much doctors can do.

“There’s been one known case in the world of somebody who had symptoms and was treated and survived, but they had quite a lot of nerve damage and brain damage.”

One thing people can do to avoid getting it is to wear long sleeves and pants if they know they’re going to be in an area where they may be bats — whether that’s locally or if they’re travelling abroad.

“We do know that it’s skin contact or mucus membrane contact of how it can be transmitted. The thing with bats is they’re usually active at night, and they usually avoid people. So, if you do come into contact with a bat — particularly if it’s during the day — that’s unusual and means there may be something wrong with the bat and you should definitely be assessed to make sure you get the post-exposure vaccination that can prevent you from getting this,” adds Henry.

She adds most of the bats in this province don’t carry the virus.

“Only about 10-15 per cent of the ones that are submitted for testing, so that’s when they’ve come into contact with humans or pets and we’ve sent them off for testing — about 13 per cent have been positive in B.C. Most bats don’t carry rabies but it is a very real risk and we know every year we give out hundreds of doses of vaccine to people who have exposures. This is a reminder of how important it is to be assessed.”

If you think you have rabies, you’ll need to go to the emergency room right away and be checked if you need the vaccine, which is free.

“They’ll be in contact with Public Health and we’ll make an assessment of the risk. It is a four-dose series that you need of the vaccine, so we want to make sure that there is a very real, tangible risk before we give it to people. We do an assessment on a case-by-case basis.”

She adds there is also a vaccination available for family pets.

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More information about rabies and its transmission can be found at HealthLink BC.