Alberta's rabies testing and surveillance program is a partnership between Alberta’s ministries of Health, Agriculture and Forestry and Environment and Parks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and several rural municipalities.
The program coordinates the testing of animal samples for the following purposes:
- Responsive testing:
- in response to human or domestic animal exposure
- when an animal dies or is euthanized with signs suggestive of rabies
- Surveillance testing in striped skunks
To find out what to do if a human or a domestic animal is potentially exposed to rabies, or if you see a bat in your home, see If you suspect rabies.
Alberta Rabies Program
Agriculture and Forestry operates the Rabies Program. Calls are primarily received from public health practitioners with Alberta Health Services and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (Health 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.
Agriculture and Forestry 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 an animal displays clinical signs compatible with rabies. This rabies testing data provides a source of passive surveillance for the presence of rabies in Alberta.
Depending on location and staff availability, Agriculture and Forestry 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, providing a potential source of future outbreaks. For this reason, a skunk trapping and testing program has been maintained in Alberta since the 1970s, directed by the Central Rabies Coordinating Committee. Each year, rural municipalities along the eastern and southern borders of the province work with field technicians to sample skunk populations in their jurisdiction. Trapped skunks are delivered to Agriculture and Forestry for preparation and submission to the CFIA laboratory.
If a positive skunk is found, which last occurred in 1993, steps are taken to reduce the skunk population in the immediate area in order to 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 2020
- Wildlife includes coyote, wolf, and fox, but is primarily coyote.
- Terrestrial species positives since 2000:
- 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2018 one case each in cats (confirmed / presumed bat rabies virus variants)
- 2013 one positive puppy imported from Nunavut while incubating virus (arctic fox virus variant)
- Alberta’s last case of rabies in a human was in 2007 (bat rabies virus variant)
Table 2. 2020 Alberta Responsive Samples for Rabies Testing
|Species||Human Exposure 1 Samples||Non-human 2 Exposure||Total Samples Tested||Total 3 Positive|
|Skunk (Non- Surveillance)||1||5||6||0|
|Other (squirrel, bear, weasel)||3||0||3||0|
|Total Responsive Submissions||116||73||189||4|
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. Surveillance program samples are reported elsewhere.
3 Total positive – all positives in 2018 to 2020 were bats with the exception of one positive cat in 2018 in the Calgary Health Zone.
Positive bats from 2020
- May 28, 2020 – little brown bat (Cochrane): caught outside by cat
- June 17, 2020 – silver-haired bat (Calgary): caught by cats while confined in shed
- July 28, 2020 – little brown bat (Willingdon): live grounded bat picked up by dog
- Aug 31, 2020 – silver-haired bat (Fort Saskatchewan): killed by dog inside owners’ residence
Table 3. Rabies Line Cases and Samples Submitted 2020*
*Number of cases responded to by rabies line personnel, and number/type of rabies samples tested in 2020 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 2016 to 2020