A person in Airdrie, Alberta, has been bitten by a bat now confirmed to have been infected with rabies, according to a statement from Alberta Health Services.
In what officials are calling the first case of rabies exposure this year in Alberta, the bat apparently flew in the window of a moving car and bit the person.
“As far as we know, the person that was bit was seeking medical attention and hopefully everything is fine,” says Dr. Gheorghe Rotaru, veterinarian and owner of the Heartland Veterinary Clinic in Lethbridge where the bat was taken for analysis and subsequently tested positive for rabies.
While rare, cases of Canadians being exposed to and/or bitten by rabid animals are not uncommon, with four cases confirmed in Alberta in the year 2015. Almost always fatal in both animals and humans if left untreated and clinical signs begin to appear, rabies is a virus that grows in the muscle tissue of an infected person or animal and makes its way to the nervous system, spinal cord and brain, progressing rapidly, usually ending in death within four or five days. Gone untreated, rabies starts with a fever accompanied by small changes in behaviour, progressing to a middle stage involving dilated pupils, erratic behaviour, anxiety and hyper-alertness and ends with paralysis of the jaw and throat that quickly spreads to other parts of the body and produces death.
Rabies is a reportable disease under Canada’s Health of Animals Act, meaning that animals suspected of carrying rabies must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Bats, skunks and foxes are the most common carriers of rabies in Canada. In 2015, the CFIA recorded 151 cases of rabies, with one third of these associated with bats and most of these reported in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.
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Health officials stress the importance of seeking medical attention if bitten by a wild animal. “If you are out and about, avoid contact with wild animals, not approaching them, not touching them. For domestic animals that you don't know, you should not be coming up to them and petting them. Avoiding bites is the most important thing,” says Dr. Judy MacDonald with Alberta Health Services.
In 2007, an Alberta man died from rabies that was left untreated for months. The man had been bitten by a bat while sleeping but did not seek treatment for exposure until nine months later when symptoms first started to appear. Since 1924, only 24 people have died in Canada from rabies, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Bat populations across North America are currently in serious decline, the result of white nose syndrome, a disease only first observed in 2006 in New York State but which has now spread across the continent, decimating over 90 per cent of some bat populations. The disease presents as a fungus that grows on a bat’s wings and face and increasingly destroys muscle tissue. White nose syndrome has not been spotted in B.C. but has already killed huge numbers of bats in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.