World Rabies Day 2021: Facts, not fear

September 28 marks the 15th World Rabies Day, a global day of action and awareness dedicated to rabies prevention. This year’s theme focuses on facts about rabies – so in that spirit, Island Health offers FAQs below to shed light on some commonly asked questions.  

How common are human cases of rabies in Canada?
Human cases of rabies in Canada are very rare. Since 1924, there have only been 26 human cases in Canada, including two in BC. However, there is massive inequality regarding the global rabies burden – for example, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 60,000 human deaths from rabies each year in Asia and Africa. Domestic dogs transmit the virus in nearly all human cases, and 40% of cases occur in children under 15.

When should I seek medical attention from an animal exposure?
For any wounds from animals, first wash with a mild soap and flush the wound with plenty of water under moderate pressure for at least 15 minutes. For puncture wounds, particularly large bleeding wounds, seek urgent medical attention.

If you have direct contact with a live bat (for example, if a bat landed on you, even briefly), seek urgent medical attention to determine if rabies post-exposure treatment is recommended. Very rarely is this recommended for bites from animals other than bats. If you are concerned, please contact Island Health’s Communicable Disease Prevention & Control.  

How do bats contact people?
Most often, people contact bats rather than the other way around. If a bat is in your house, do not chase it out – many exposures happen this way. Rather, try getting them to leave on their own by closing interior doors, opening outside doors and windows, and turning off lights. For more information, please visit Managing Bats in Buildings.

My cat/dog ate a bat. What should I do?
Ensure your pet’s rabies vaccine is up to date. If a bat had rabies and was eaten by an animal, that animal would have to become infected with rabies before it could pass on to humans. This is extremely rare, especially if the animal is vaccinated.

A bat was in my room when I was sleeping. Do I need rabies post-exposure treatment?
The risk of contracting rabies from a bat in a house without a known exposure is extremely low, and unless there is a concern of a known exposure, rabies post-exposure treatment is not provided.