Rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. It is spread by a virus that can infect humans. Wild animals that are most at risk to carry rabies virus include bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Farm animals and pets such as dogs, cats, ferrets, horse and cows can also be infected but this is uncommon. Rodents such as squirrels, mice and rats rarely become infected.
While other parts of Canada have strains of rabies carried by several different animals, rabies in Nova Scotia is almost always limited to bats. Bats are a common sight in the province, but you will not catch rabies by simply being in presence of a bat. The rabies virus has to get inside the body, and it can only do that through a bite, or if the animals saliva (spit) enters the body by touching our eyes or getting inside the nose or mouth.
There are different strains of rabies, such as bat strain, raccoon strain and in Nova Scotia, there has only been bat strain which was found in bats, fox and a cat. Raccoon strain of rabies has been found in raccoons in New Brunswick, Ontario and the United States.
Animals that are sick with rabies may have strange behaviour. They may act aggressively, trying to attack and bite people and other animals. They may have trouble walking or flying (bats) or may stay away from people.
If you are exposed by an animal that you think may have rabies or were in direct contact with a bat (a bat landed on or touched you) it is important to talk to a health care provider and to wash the wound or area with soap and water. You may need to seek medical assessment for wound care. A physician or other health care professional will assess the risk of rabies in consultation with Public Health service and determine if you will need rabies post-exposure treatment. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal or bat or by another animal that is behaving strangely, you should bring it to the vet immediately.