Rabies is a viral disease of warm-blooded animals that can be transmitted to humans.
How the rabies virus is transferred between animals and humans
It is caused by a virus of the Rhabdoviridae family, which attacks the central nervous system and eventually affects the brain. Rabies is almost always fatal in animals and people once symptoms occur. The virus is transmitted through close contact with the saliva of infected animals, most often by a bite or scratch or by licks on broken skin or mucous membranes, such as those in the eyes, nasal cavity or mouth. In very rare cases, person-to-person transmission has occurred when saliva droplets became aerial.
In 2000 and 2003, two people in Canada died of rabies infection, one in Quebec (2000) and one in British Columbia (2003). These were the first
cases of human rabies in Canada since 1985. The most likely sources of infection for both individuals were unrecognized bat exposures. Bat bites can inflict small wounds and go unnoticed, and without wound cleansing or post-exposure vaccinations the potential incidence of
rabies can be very high.
The rabies virus can infect any mammal. In North America, it occurs mainly in foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons and can spread to domestic livestock and pets. In B.C .however, the only carrier of rabies is bats – no raccoons or skunks in B.C. have ever transmitted rabies. It is estimated that 1% of bats in the wild in B.C. carry rabies. In June 2004, four skunks in Stanley Park in Vancouver tested positive for the rabies virus, however it was discovered that they all carried the bat strain of rabies – likely they had all been in contact with a rabid bat.
What to do if you suspect rabies
Dogs and cats account for less than 5% of all animal rabies cases in Canada, however you should still consult your veterinarian about the rabies vaccine for your pets in case they are in contact with a bat.
If your pet brings home a bat or if any person in your household has touched a bat with bare skin, contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at 1-800-442-2342 or your local CFIA office (found in the blue pages of your telephone directory) IMMEDIATELY!
THIS IS REQUIRED BY LAW BECAUSE RABIES IS A FEDERALLY REPORTABLE DISEASE IN CANADA.
The bat must be euthanized and sent for testing and CFIA will follow up with test results and advise you about precautions for your two and four-legged family members. This is vital as once the symptoms of rabies (flu-like including fever, headache, fatigue, progressing to GI and CNS problems) start to appear, there is no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal. However, wound cleansing and immunizations, done as soon as possible after suspected contact with an animal can prevent the onset of rabies in virtually 100% of exposures.
If treatment is given promptly after being exposed to (any bare skin contact) or bitten by a bat, the illness may be prevented by taking the following actions:
Immediately wash the wound or exposed surface with soap and water for 10 minutes and cover the area with a clean bandage
Remove any clothing that may have been contaminated
Immediately call your doctor and CFIA for advice