Toronto rabies case likely from Dominican Republic

Toronto’s first human rabies case in over 80 years almost certainly was infected outside of Canada.

TORONTO — Toronto’s first human rabies case in over 80 years almost certainly was infected outside of Canada.

An official of Toronto Public Health said testing of the strain of the deadly virus taken from the unidentified patient showed it is one known to circulate on the island of Hispaniola.

“The strain results do show that this does seem to be a travel-related case.

It is not a strain that’s found in Canada,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rae, associate medical officer of health for the city of Toronto.

Rae said testing done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency showed the rabies strain is one that is found in dogs on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Fifteen health-care workers have been offered preventative rabies treatment because they had what a public health assessment determined was a “potential exposure” to rabies through the patient, Toronto Public Health spokesperson Jennifer Veenboer said.

Staff in the health facilities that saw and treated the patient were interviewed to determine if any workers needed to be offered treatment.

A combination of rabies shots and human rabies immune globulin — antibodies taken from the blood of people immunized against rabies — can prevent infection if given quickly enough after the exposure.

Veenboer said the investigation identified 177 health-care workers who had some interaction with the patient. But it was determined the majority didn’t have the type of contact that might have put them at risk of infection.

She couldn’t say whether all 15 have agreed to take the treatment.

And she would not reveal how many members of the patient’s family or circle of contacts have been offered preventative treatment, saying that information is not being released to protect their privacy.

Public health officials won’t reveal anything about the individual — not even, at this point, whether the patient is still alive.

But it has been reported that the case is a 41-year-old man who worked in the Dominican Republic for several months before recently returning to Canada.

Rae said it’s still not known how the patient became infected. By the time he was diagnosed, he was too ill to help in the investigation.

“There’s still no clear exposure story. So in truth we may never know where or how or what animal.”

Studying the genome of a rabies virus can disclose a lot about the type animal that carried it and where the animal lived, Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control explained earlier this week.

“You can exquisitely type . . . the virus. And so for example you could tell that it’s a bat rabies virus from say the New World or it’s a dog rabies virus from Haiti or it’s a raccoon rabies virus from North America,” Rupprecht said from Atlanta.

“What it doesn’t tell you necessarily is the animal that did the biting.”

That’s because if an intermediary animal became infected — if a cat was bitten by a rabid bat, for example — and then went on to bite a human, that wouldn’t be clear from the tests.

Rae said the Public Health Agency of Canada has alerted authorities in the Dominican Republic and they are assessing the patient’s contacts there to see if they need rabies shots.

She suggested the case is a reminder to people who travel that they should be wary of contact with animals while abroad.

“For a traveller, the kind of general advice would be any animal — don’t be touching any animal on your travels,” Rae said.

“The other thing to remember is that you don’t really have to have a bite in the sense of a big chunk taken out of your leg.

A little nip that saliva could get in, or a lick and you happen to have cuts and scraps on your hand. So it’s not always a big dramatic confrontation with an animal that’s foaming at the mouth or that kind of stereotype.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whistle Stop Cafe owner’s legal battle continues

Government stopped closure order legal action but Public Health Act breach still a live issue

RCMP seized a substantial amount of stolen property last week. (Photo courtesy of Innisfail RCMP)
RCMP charge six suspects after ‘substantial’ amount of stolen property seized

Innisfail RCMP recovered a large amount of stolen property after arresting six… Continue reading

Pharmacist Aamir Hussain, owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in Clearview Market Square, said he expects vaccine to be available to eligible seniors next week at his store. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Red Deer pharmacies prepare to be part of COVID-19 immunization plan

Seniors have already been calling to book appointments

Alberta Health Services Logo
AHS checking in with local businesses about COVID-19 plan

Alberta Health Services in the central zone is reaching out to local… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Butter and sourdough bread is shown at a house in Vernon, B.C. on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. A Quebec dairy farmers' group is calling on milk producers to stop feeding palm oil or its derivatives to livestock as controversy churns over how these supplements affect the consistency of butter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston
Dairy farmers lobby asks members to stop using palm oil in feed after ‘buttergate’

A dairy producers’ lobbying group is asking farmers to consider alternatives to… Continue reading

A new report says Canada’s small businesses now collectively owe more than $135 billion as they struggle to survive the pandemic, a staggering amount experts say could hurt the country’s economic recovery. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
Canadian small businesses rack up $135 billion in debt to survive pandemic: Report

TORONTO — Canada’s small businesses have collectively taken on $135 billion in… Continue reading

A Loblaws store is seen in Montreal on March 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Loblaw ready to call on pharmacists, supply chain to help COVID-19 vaccine rollout

BRAMPTON, Ont. — Loblaw Companies Ltd. says its ready to play a… Continue reading

Imperial Oil logo as seen at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Friday, April 29, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Imperial Oil reports one-billion-barrel drop in bitumen reserves at end of 2020

CALGARY — Imperial Oil Ltd. is cutting one billion barrels from its… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference about training for judges Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Justice Minister David Lametti proposes permanent justice reforms in wake of pandemic

OTTAWA — The COVID-19 pandemic appears set to force a modernization of… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. Lametti says he will seek parliamentary approval to remove a Quebec judge from the bench after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the judge’s appeal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Justice minister to seek judge’s removal after Supreme Court declines to hear appeal

OTTAWA — Justice Minister David Lametti says he will seek parliamentary approval… Continue reading

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is reeling after news defence chief… Continue reading

William Sandeson arrives at provincial court in Halifax on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Canada’s top court has declined to hear a Crown appeal of an overturned murder conviction in the case of a former Nova Scotia medical student. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Supreme Court declines to hear Crown appeal of overturned N.S. murder conviction

Canada’s top court has declined to hear an appeal from the Crown… Continue reading

Most Read