The man who died from rabies after coming into contact with a bat on Vancouver Island has been identified by his family on social media as 21-year-old Nick Major of Parksville.
He came into contact with a bat in mid-May, but did not develop symptoms linked to rabies until six weeks later.
Major, who worked as a taekwondo instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville, died Saturday at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
A family member said Major had been driving and pulled over on the side of the road when a bat flew into him.
Health authorities confirmed he was outdoors and in broad daylight when a bat struck his hand then flew away.
“He wasn’t doing anything risky that would put him in a position where he would encounter bats,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief provincial health officer. “This is an incredibly unfortunate strange circumstance for this young man and his family.”
He had no visible bite or scratch marks, Henry said. “The thing with bats is their teeth are very small and their bite marks can be microscopic and you might not even notice them.”
“Bats also lick themselves and the rabies virus has been found on the outside of their body, so if a bat brushes against you, the virus can be transmitted through a mucus membrane, via your eyes or mouth.”
Henry said family members, close community contacts and health-care workers who cared for the man are being assessed and given post-exposure rabies preventive measures, if needed.
It’s the first confirmed death from rabies in B.C. since 2003.
In Canada, there have been only 24 known cases since the 1920s, with the most recent in Ontario in 2012 and Alberta in 2007.
Henry said a six-week incubation period for the rabies virus is not unusual. “Sometimes the window can be many months … but once symptoms start to show, it is almost universally fatal,” said Henry. “And it can be a real puzzle to figure out because rabies symptoms — tingling, weakness, fever, headaches — can be caused by a whole variety of things.”
According to a GoFundMe account set up for Major while he was in the hospital, doctors originally believed he was suffering from myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.
About 13 per cent of bats tested in B.C. are positive for rabies and the Health Ministry said this presents a continuing risk for people and pets. “It is important to ensure pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date. If you believe your pet has had contact with a bat, consult your veterinarian,” the ministry said in a statement.
Health Canada said between 2006 and 2010, a total of 1,005 cases of confirmed animal rabies were reported in Canada.
Anyone who comes in contact with a bat, even if there is no obvious bite or scratch, is advised to wash the area with soap and water and consult a health-care provider immediately.
Treatment for someone who has been exposed to rabies is a series of shots that includes one dose of rabies immune globulin that helps to neutralize the virus before it becomes established, and four doses of rabies vaccine given over 14 days that help the immune system make antibodies to fight the virus.