Calls continue to pour in to public health units following the death last month of a young Parksville man who contracted rabies from a bat.
Well over 125 people in the Vancouver Island Health Authority region have reported coming into contact with a bat so far this year, said medical health officer Dee Hoyano. Island Health received fewer than 10 calls in the same period last year.
“Before, we probably weren’t hearing about a lot of bat exposures that were occurring,” she said.
The influx of calls follows the death of 21-year-old Nick Major of Parksville from a rare viral rabies infection. It's thought that Major, who worked as a taekwondo instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville, became infected after a bat flew into his hand, during the day, in mid-May.
Major developed symptoms six weeks later and died July 13 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
His death has helped to raise awareness about potential risks, “which is a good thing because we do want people to be aware they shouldn’t be in contact with bats and, if they have a bite, they should seek care for that,” Hoyano said.
About 15 per cent of those who called were deemed at possible risk and were treated. “We have been vaccinating a lot of people who have actually been exposed to bats,” Hoyano said.
Puncture wounds, scratches and bites are of the highest concern, but health officials encourage anyone who comes in contact with a bat to speak with public health officials. Sometimes such wounds can be hard to see because bats’ claws and teeth are so small.
People who have breaks in their skin — a wound or eczema, for instance — and handle a bat could also be at risk. It is not advisable to pat the animals because they groom themselves with their saliva.
Bats are the only carrier of the rabies virus in B.C., and although deaths from rabies are extremely rare — Major’s was only the second reported death in B.C. since the 1920s — public health officials advise anyone who has direct contact with a bat to wash the area with soap and water, and seek medical attention.
A vaccine is available and effective at preventing a rabies infection if administered soon after exposure.
There have been no more rabies cases since Major died.
Two celebration of life ceremonies were held for Major over the weekend, with hundreds attending to share stories of the positive impact hr had on their community and their families’ lives and to pay their respects.