Rabies in BC

Rabies is a very rare but serious disease caused by a virus that can be transmitted from animals to people. It is usually transmitted through saliva by the bite of a mammal.

The risk of rabies in BC is very low, however, if you think that your pet has potentially been exposed, it’s recommended to consult a veterinarian immediately, even if your pet is already vaccinated against rabies. If you think you may have been exposed to a rabid animal, you should consult your doctor and/or your local Public Health Authority. In the Fraser Valley Region, the Fraser Health Authority’s Central Communicable Disease Intake Line is 1-866-990-9941.

In BC, the only animals that carry the rabies virus are several species of bats. Only approximately 0.5% of bats carry the virus and all species of healthy bats in BC play an essential role in the ecosystem by eating insects, which helps control the population size of pest insects. All 17 species of bats in BC are protected under the Provincial Wildlife Act. Half of these are listed as vulnerable or threatened species. Bats should be left undisturbed unless there is a suspicion of rabies exposure or other harm.

If you know of bats living in a building and would like to learn more about how to safely evict them, see www.bcbats.ca

If you would like further information about rabies, please see the BC Centre for Disease Control website. http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/rabies

Rabies in People and Pets

There is a very low risk of rabies in BC, however, if you have been bitten or scratched by a bat, you should wash the wound with soap and running water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention. In humans, rabies can be prevented if treatment is received in time.

If your pet has been bitten or scratched by a bat, you should consult a veterinarian even if your pet is already vaccinated against rabies.

If the bat that bit or scratched you or your pet is captured, your veterinarian may recommend having the bat tested for rabies to help better determine your risk of exposure to the virus.

Managing Bats

There are two forms of rabies in animals. In the Furious form the animal is aggressive, and in the Dumb form the animal is lethargic. Bats with rabies usually show the dumb form, including daytime appearances and loss of flight ability.

If you find a bat or other wild animal showing these signs, do not try to touch the animal as you may be putting yourself at risk of rabies exposure.

Capturing a Live Bat

If your pet has been bitten or scratched by a live bat and you would like to capture it for rabies testing, ask for help from a pest control specialist or your local public health unit. Do not put yourself at risk by attempting to capture a potentially rabid bat yourself.

If you have already been bitten or scratched by the bat and you are comfortable catching it, follow these steps:

  • Never touch a bat with bare hands
  • If the bat is inside, close all doors and windows
  • Put on a hat, leather or puncture-proof gloves, and a long sleeve jacket and pants
  • Use a blanket, net, or towel to catch the bat (without touching it and protecting your face and any other exposed areas)
  • Put the bat in a sealable container
  • Place container in a cool, safe place away from human or pet contact
  • Dispose of gloves used to transfer the bat and wash your hands well

Do not attempt to kill the bat. If the bat is already dead, you can put on gloves and pick up the bat with a shovel to transfer it to a sealable container. Refrigerate but don’t freeze the container to preserve the bat for testing. Dispose of the gloves and wash your hands well after.

Managing a Dead Bat

If you find a dead bat in the woods or away from populated areas, leave it where it is. If the dead bat is in your yard, and you are sure there has been no human or pet contact – call the BC Community Bat Program at 1-855-9BC-BATS. Between Nov 1st and May 31st they may want to collect the bat for a wildlife heath surveillance program.

Whether you are collecting a dead bat for the BC Community Bat Program, or to dispose of, do not touch it with bare hands. You should wear disposable gloves and pick it up with a shovel or plastic bag. Put the bat inside a bag and then put that bag inside a second tightly sealed bag (like a plastic zip lock bag). Store the bat in a cool place until the BC Community Bat Program can pick it up, or until you can put it out in the garbage. Be sure to contact your municipality to check that your by-laws allow you to dispose of the bat in the garbage.