Bat with rabies bites person in Airdrie, health officials say they are not 'treating' anyone

A bat confirmed to have rabies bit a person in southern Alberta, but health officials say they are not “treating” a human with the deadly viral disease.

Untreated rabies is essentially a death sentence for humans and animals, vet says

A silver-haired bat, the species most often associated with human rabies. It is a solitary woods bat that lives under the bark of trees. (Merlin D. Tuttle/Bat Conservation International/Associated Press)

A bat confirmed to have rabies bit a person in southern Alberta, but health officials say they are not "treating" a human with the deadly viral disease.

The bat was taken to the Heartland Veterinary Clinic on June 4, where it was immediately euthanized and sent for rabies testing, said clinic owner and veterinarian Dr. Gheorghe Rotaru.

Clinic owner and veterinarian Dr. Gheorghe Rotaru says the bat was euthanized and sent to Lethbridge for analysis. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

"The only test that can be done for rabies is by testing the brain," Rotaru explained.

"As far as we know, the person that was bit was seeking medical attention and hopefully everything is fine."

He said the bat was sent to Lethbridge for analysis where it tested positive for rabies.

'100 per cent lethal,' says vet

Rotaru said that, if left untreated, rabies is virtually a death sentence for humans and animals.

"For pets, domestic animals even wild animals and humans, it is 100 per cent lethal. It is as serious as it can be. A pet that is not protected with vaccination, if it is exposed to rabies, if it is not treated, more or less it is 100 per cent guarantee it will die," Rotaru said.

"The same with humans."

Dr. Judy MacDonald, a medical officer of health with the province, says rabies is rare and preventable. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

Dr. Judy MacDonald, a medical health officer with Alberta Health Services, confirmed the case but said no human is being "treated" for rabies in the province.

"It was the first [case of human rabies exposure] this year that we are aware of," MacDonald said, noting there were four last year in Alberta.

Rabies prevention

MacDonald said however, that rabies even in bats is rare and more importantly, preventable.

"If you have a pet, make sure they are immunized against rabies," MacDonald explained.

"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."

Rabies symptoms 'quite devastating'

Without treatment, Rotaru said the viral disease works its way through the central nervous system to the brain, which can take days, depending on where the bite occurred on the body.

Humans who contract the virus and do not receive treatment can experience extreme symptoms, including nervousness, aggression, and even throat spasms, he said.

"It is quite devastating."

Rotaru said bats are the most common carriers of rabies, but others include skunks, raccoons and, in rare cases, rats and rodents.

Rotaru said, while not mandatory, vaccinations are critical, and treatment after a bite should be immediate. 

With files from Stephanie Wiebe

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