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A western small-footed bat collected by researchers in a cave near Ely, Nev., Nov. 5, 2018. Bats are the main cause of human rabies and have been for several years, responsible for infecting seven of every 10 people who develop the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on June 12, 2019.

KIM RAFF/The New York Times News Service

A British Columbia man has died of a rare viral rabies infection, the first such case in the province since 2003.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the man was in contact with a bat in mid-May and developed symptoms compatible with rabies six weeks later.

She says in a news release that while the exposure in this case was on Vancouver Island, bats in all areas of B.C. are known to carry rabies.

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The Health Ministry is not releasing further information about the man to ensure privacy for his family.

The news release says family members, close community contacts and health-care workers who cared for the man are being assessed and given postexposure rabies preventative measures if needed.

The release says overall in Canada, there have been only 24 known cases of viral rabies infections since the 1920s, and the most recent cases were in Ontario in 2012 and Alberta in 2007.

“If anyone in B.C. comes in contact with a bat – even if there is no obvious bite or scratch – wash the area with soap and water. Then consult a health-care provider or local public health department immediately. They will assess the risk of rabies and may provide a vaccine to prevent infection,” the release says.

It adds that bats are the only known carriers of the rabies virus in the province and about 13 per cent of bats tested in B.C. are positive for rabies.

“This presents an ongoing risk for people and for companion animals, such as cats and dogs. 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.”

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