Rabies testing and surveillance program

In Alberta, this partner program coordinates the testing of animal samples for rabies.

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Rabies prevention and control

Overview

The rabies testing and surveillance program is a partnership between the Alberta government, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and several rural municipalities.

The program coordinates the testing of animal samples:

  • in response to human or domestic animal exposure, and
  • when a wild or domestic animal dies or is euthanized with signs suggestive of rabies

To find out what to do if a human or a domestic animal may have been exposed to rabies, if you see a bat in your home, or if you have observed potentially rabid wildlife, see If you suspect rabies.

Responsive testing

Alberta Rabies Program

Phone: 1-844-427-6847
Email: [email protected]

Agriculture and Irrigation operates the Rabies Program. Calls are primarily received from public health practitioners with Alberta Health Services and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (Indigenous Services Canada), veterinary clinics, wildlife personnel and members of the public.

Calls to the Rabies Line during regular business hours are answered by Registered Veterinary Technologists who work with Alberta’s Public Health Veterinarian. Together they provide information and advice on rabies in Alberta, most commonly with respect to potential human or domestic animal exposures.

Testing

Agriculture and Irrigation staff coordinate sample submission when it is necessary to test animals for rabies. Testing may be undertaken when the results are necessary to inform the management of an exposed human or domestic animal, or when a wild or domestic animal displays clinical signs compatible with rabies. This testing data provides a source of passive surveillance for the presence of rabies in Alberta.

Depending on location and staff availability, rabies program staff may collect and ship animal specimens or may request the assistance of a local veterinary clinic. Veterinary clinics are provided with submission forms as well as packaging and shipping information and are compensated for their assistance.

Rabies samples are tested at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) National Center for Animal Diseases outside Lethbridge, Alberta.

Surveillance in striped skunks

Presently, only bat rabies virus variants are endemic in Alberta. However, skunk rabies variants are present in Saskatchewan and Montana. For this reason, a skunk trapping and testing program was maintained in Alberta from 1970 through 2022, directed by the Central Rabies Control Committee. Each year, rural municipalities along the eastern and southern borders of the province worked with field technicians to sample skunk populations in their jurisdiction. Trapped skunks were delivered to Agriculture and Irrigation for preparation and submission to the CFIA laboratory.

Over time, the distribution of skunk rabies in Saskatchewan and Montana has changed and there have been no detections within 200 km of the Alberta border in at least 10 years. Therefore, active surveillance in striped skunks through random trapping was suspended effective in 2023. The program now focuses on rabies testing of skunks that have been observed with neurological or other signs suggestive of rabies. This approach, termed passive surveillance, is a more efficient means of detecting rare events as compared to a random sample of mostly healthy animals. Relying on passive surveillance is appropriate given the current level of risk. Rabies detections in Saskatchewan and Montana continue to be monitored to detect changes in risk.

If a positive skunk is found, which last occurred in 1994, steps are taken to reduce the skunk population in the immediate area and thereby reduce the potential for the virus to spread. Animals removed from the population are tested for rabies virus and the response area is expanded if additional cases are detected.

Table 1. Annual rabies positives in Alberta, 1952 to 2023

Graph of annual rabies positives in Alberta, 1952 to 2023

Data provided by the CFIA

Data table of confirmed rabies detections in animals in Alberta 1927 to 2023

Table notes:

  • Wildlife includes primarily coyote and fox.
  • Terrestrial species positives since 2000:
    • 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2018 one case each in cats (confirmed / presumed bat rabies virus variants)
    • 2013 one puppy imported from Nunavut while incubating rabies (arctic fox virus variant)
    • Alberta’s last case of rabies in a human was in 2007 (bat rabies virus variant)

Table 2. Alberta responsive samples for rabies testing 2021 to 2023

1 Human exposure: refers to samples tested in relation to a confirmed or suspected human exposure to the animal.
2 Non-human exposure: samples were tested due to a confirmed or suspected domestic animal exposure or a history and clinical signs compatible with rabies. Active skunk rabies surveillance program samples are reported elsewhere.
3 Other includes: 2023 – Badger, porcupine, weasel; 2022 – cougar, weasel, squirrel (2), rat; 2021 – squirrel, rabbit.
 202320222021
SpeciesTotal samples testedHuman exposure1 samplesNon-human2 exposureTotal positiveTotal samples
(human exposure/
non-human exposure/
total positive)
Bats943559572
(22/50/3)
98
(31/67/2)
Domestic cat25205022
(22/0/0)
20
(17/3/0)
Domestic dog24222019
(14/5/0)
26
(26/0/0)
Livestock42207
(4/3/0)
6
(5/1/0)
Coyote64205
(3/2/0)
5
(2/3/0)
Fox00001
(1/0/0)
2
(1/1/0)
Raccoon10101
(0/1/0)
2
(1/1/0)
Skunk (non-surveillance)505015
(0/15/0)
6
(3/3/0)
Other333005
(4/1/0)
2
(2/0/0)
Total responsive submissions16286765147
(70/77/3)
167
(88/79/2)

Positive samples from 2023

  • May 14: big brown bat – found grounded in residential garage, possible dog and cat contact
  • Aug 7: big brown bat – found grounded in residential yard and acting aggressively, possible dog contact
  • Aug 19: little brown bat – found inside a home with signs of weakness/paralysis, observed contact with dog
  • Sept 2: hoary bat – found dead on residential driveway, possible cat contact
  • Sept 6: silver-haired bat – found live on residential deck, possible dog contact

Positive samples from 2022

  • July 31: little brown bat – attacked/bit person outdoors
  • July 31: little brown bat – grounded bat on front stoop, possible cat contact
  • October 2: silver haired bat – bat unable to fly, submitted to permitted rehabilitation facility, displayed neurologic abnormalities (no human or domestic animal exposure)

Positive samples from 2021

  • July 10: silver haired bat – cat caught bat and owner was bitten by bat while trying to rescue it
  • November 18: big brown bat – injured bat submitted to a permitted rehabilitation facility, displayed neurologic abnormalities (no human or domestic animal exposure)

Table 3. Rabies line cases and samples submitted, 2021 to 2023*

Graph of Rabies Line Cases and Samples Submitted 2021 to 2023

*Number of cases responded to by rabies line personnel, and number and type of rabies samples tested in 2021 to 2023, by month. One ‘case’ generally involves multiple email and phone contacts and may involve multiple stakeholders such as a member of the public, public health personnel and a veterinary clinic.

Table 4. Number of skunk surveillance samples by county, 2018 to 2022

Graph of the Number of Skunk Surveillance Samples by County 2017 to 2021