A dead bat has tested positive for rabies after an indoor cat was found playing with it in the Egmont area, said Dr. Rick Smalley, a veterinarian with Madeira Park Veterinary Hospital.
A family discovered one of their two indoor cats playing with the bat, and the bat was handled by one of the children. Neither of the cats had been vaccinated for rabies and they were sent to the Madeira Park veterinary hospital for vaccinations within a couple of hours to prevent infection.
The hospital sent the bat to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) on Monday, Aug. 27 and the federal lab confirmed it had tested positive for rabies that Friday. All four family members happened to be vaccinated for rabies prior to the incident because they were preparing for a trip to Bali, which recommends tourists be vaccinated against the disease.
“If the animals had been vaccinated and nobody touched the bat, then you’d be OK, but one of the children picked up the bat. So it becomes a strange game,” said Smalley, adding that unlike other optional vaccinations, it is “absolutely critical” to vaccinate pets for rabies because it is a federally reportable disease. “It’s such a serious situation,” he said.
He said it is uncommon for animals to test positive for the disease, which is almost always fatal. According to the BCCDC, in B.C., “the only animals that carry rabies are several species of bats,” with 0.5 per cent of the population carrying the virus.
Infected mammals spread the virus through saliva, usually through a bite. BCCDC recommends that if anyone is bitten or scratched by an animal suspected to be infected with the virus they should immediately wash the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes and then flush thoroughly with water, and seek medical attention at once. Rabies can be prevented in humans if injections are administered in time, but death is likely if people wait until symptoms appear, which include headache, fever, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle spasm or weakness and strange behaviour.
Smalley said bats shouldn’t be avoided or exterminated, but that people should be cautious and avoid handling them. Pets bitten by animals suspected to have rabies should be brought to a veterinarian immediately, along with the bat or animal for testing, if safe.
There are two forms of rabies: “furious” and “dumb.” Furious form causes aggression in animals while “dumb” causes lethargy. Bats infected with rabies usually exhibit signs of weakness, inability to fly and appear in the daytime. “If you find one sitting on your lawn chair at noon, you might want to think about it,” said Smalley.