Calgary

Demand for rabies vaccine in Alberta spikes after death of B.C. man infected by bat

A 21-year-old man died of rabies in July after coming into contact with a bat on Vancouver Island — an extremely rare case that generated headlines.

Health authorities advised 'to use conservation strategies to maximize the use of our current supply'

This is an undated closeup photo of the eastern pipistrelle bat, a species that is frequently linked with human rabies cases. A 21-year-old B.C. man died last month from rabies after coming into contact with an infected bat on Vancouver Island. (Merlin D. Tuttle/Bat Conservation International/AP)

Demand for the rabies vaccine is on the rise in Alberta after a B.C. man died from the disease last month.

A 21-year-old man died of rabies in July after coming into contact with a bat on Vancouver Island.

It was an extremely rare case and generated headlines.

Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan says more people in Alberta have been asking for the vaccine and Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG), which is used to treat rabies exposure.

"Exact numbers are not publicly available, but there does appear to have been increased demand during the last two weeks of July," McMillan said.

He said the province has enough vaccine to meet the rising demand, but as a precaution the chief medical officer of health has advised health authorities "to use conservation strategies to maximize the use of our current supply."

Knee-jerk reaction

Dr. Craig Jenne, who researches infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, says the increased demand is just a knee-jerk reaction.

"Often we'll see that there's this panic or mass stampede to get vaccinated and that 99 per cent of the people lining up for the vaccine have no need for the vaccine," he said.

Jenne says the province typically stockpiles enough vaccine to ensure anyone who gets exposed will be treated.

"We can use rabies vaccine even after you've caught rabies. So, after you've been bit, we can still administer the vaccine. And we always keep a lot of that locked away," he said. "So we always have enough for these post-exposure treatments."

Health officials say the risk of rabies infection is extremely low. Only two Albertans have died from the disease since 1924.

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