Reports of rabies are always alarming, let's face it. The latest instance of a bat rabies outbreak in Ontario was announced this week, and it's affecting the Halton Region. In fact, it was confirmed by the Halton Region Health Department on Thursday that the cities of Oakville and Burlington have both been affected.
Halton Region is advising residents who may have had contact with bats recently to contact the Health Department by calling 311.
Meanwhile, a wildlife expert was quick to highlight the hidden dangers posed by bat rabies.
The biggest problem? Assessing whether a bat has rabies or not.
"We're not going to be able to tell if something is wrong with that bat until they are tested," said Jared Houliston, President of Ontario Wildlife Removal Inc., to Narcity. "It's not like raccoons or skunks that have rabies (and) you can notice there's something wrong."
Houliston added: "Bats can carry rabies and you wouldn't know a healthy bat to a rabid bat, and that's why when people are in contact with them, they do need to go for testing."
According to the Health Department's news release, "these are the first two confirmed cases of rabies in Halton this year." However, they're not Ontario's.
Last week, Peel Region was struck when it was reported that bats with rabies were found in Brampton.
According to information given to Narcity by the Halton Region Health Department, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs states there is a low risk - estimated at two to three percent - of finding rabies in bats anywhere in the province.*
"The Health Department is reminding residents to avoid all contact with bats and other wild animals," said Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Halton Region Medical Officer of Health, in the news release.
"Anyone who comes in physical contact with a bat or other wild animal should see a physician immediately and contact the Health Department."
The Halton Region is warning residents that, if in contact, this viral disease can cause severe damage to the brain and spinal cord, and can be fatal.
Whether it's a bite or scratch, the virus can be spread. However, the consequences can be prevented through vaccination after symptoms appear.
The severity of this is no joke.
Just last month, a 21-year-old man died in B.C. after contracting rabies from an infected bat. He came in contact with a bat in May but was unaware he was infected until he noticed symptoms creeping in six weeks later.
If you do come across a bat and are unsure how to tell if they are infected, Halton Health has some tips. They could move pretty slow, are unable to fly, are awake during daytime hours while most bats are nocturnal, and show little to no response to loud noises.
According to this Houliston, the chances of coming into contact with a bat are generally higher if you find one in your attic than if you're out and about.
"They're not in front of people's faces like a bird, or a squirrel, or a dog that's right there with you," he added.
Even so, you should really be sure to take the proper precautions if you come across any wild animal.
*This article has been updated.