Rabies diagnosed in Toronto man

A Toronto man is being treated for the first case of rabies in a human in the city in more than 80 years, CBC News has learned.

A Toronto man is being treated for the first case of rabies in a human in the city in more than 80 years, CBC News has learned.

The 41-year-old man had been working as a bartender in the Dominican Republic for four months.

He had already reported symptoms at the end of last month in the Dominican Republic where he was seen three times at a resort clinic.

His condition worsened to the point that he was having trouble swallowing and was afraid of food, water and even the air.

He returned to Toronto a week ago by airplane. He was taken to hospital by police after behaving erratically at the airport.

His symptoms worsened by April 11, and on April 12, samples were sent for testing. It was then determined he had rabies, a virus that attacks the brain and nervous system.

Dr. Donald Low, the medical director of the public health laboratories at the arms-length government agency Public Health Ontario, said rabies in humans is rare.

Last Ontario case was in 1967

The last case of rabies in a human in Ontario was an Ottawa valley girl in 1967. The last case in Toronto occurred in 1931 when a three-year-old girl contracted the virus.

There have only been three cases of human rabies in Canada in the last 12 years. All of those people were bitten by infected bats.

"There's a good chance if you grow the virus, which is in the process of being done, you can fingerprint the virus,"  said Low.

"It can give you a clue as to where it might have come from — whether it came from a bat, whether it came from a skunk or a dog and also ... there might be some evidence there to be able to say in hindsight that it came from an area similar to the Dominican Republic."

The infected Toronto man is being treated in the neurological intensive care unit at Toronto Western Hospital.

Human-to-human transmission of rabies is extremely rare, Low said, but the man's family members are being treated with vaccines.

Most people who show symptoms of rabies don't survive. Those who do usually suffer severe neurological damage.

Humans can be vaccinated against rabies before exposure to the virus. They are also vaccinated after contact, although immunization is recommended as soon as possible after exposure.