Find information about managing possible rabies exposures.

Dear Doctor,

A recent, rare fatality was reported this week in British Columbia (B.C.) from rabies (only the second in the province in the past 95 years), following contact with a bat on Vancouver Island six weeks earlier. The affected individual did not seek medical attention following bat exposure.  

Patients may present to physicians with concerns about rabies risk following animal or bat exposure.

The following are helpful factors to consider:

  • In British Columbia, bats are the only natural reservoir of rabies. About 1 per cent of bats carry the infection; however, 13 per cent of bats submitted for testing after human contact have been found to be infected. In British Columbia, rabies is extremely rare in pets and domestic animals or wildlife.  If a patient reports direct contact (e.g., handling/touching) with a bat in B.C. please call Fraser Health Public Health. Public Health will conduct a risk assessment to determine whether rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is indicated. 
  • Elsewhere in Canada, rabies is also prevalent in several wildlife species, such as foxes or skunks.  Overseas, particularly in developing countries, rabies is widely prevalent in dogs and feral and wild animals.  Reports of direct contact with a bat or animal that occur in settings outside B.C. also warrant a call to Fraser Health Public Health for risk assessment and/or RPEP.
  • Physical evidence of direct contact (scratch or bite) with a bat may not be apparent. A clear patient history of direct contact with a bat is important to elucidate; finding a bat in a room for example, does not generally constitute direct contact that would warrant RPEP. 

If the patient presents shortly following the exposure, manage the exposed site similar to other wounds. Wash the contact site with mild soap and copious amount water for at least 15 minutes.  Also consider updating tetanus-diphtheria vaccine as required.

Fraser Health Public Health can be reached at:

  • During working hours (Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.): 1-866-990-9941 (Option #2)
  • After-hours: Medical Health Officer on-call: 604-527-4806
 

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