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Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases
Volume 13, Issue 2, Pages 129-133
Case Report

Diagnosis and Analysis of a Recent Case of Human Rabies in Canada

Lindsay D Elmgren,1 Susan A Nadin-Davis,2 Frances T Muldoon,2 and Alexander I Wandeler2

1Medical Devices Bureau, Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2Centre of Expertise for Rabies, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Received 20 March 2001; Revised 30 July 2001

Copyright © 2002 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


BACKGROUND: On September 30, 2000, staff at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Centre of Expertise for Rabies, located at the Animal Diseases Research Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, diagnosed rabies in a child from Quebec. This was the first case of rabies in a human in Canada in 15 years and in 36 years in the province of Quebec. After spending a week in intensive care in a Montreal hospital, the nine-year-old boy succumbed to this nearly always fatal disease. The boy had been exposed to a bat in late August 2000, while vacationing with his family in the Quebec countryside.

METHODS: Antemortem specimens taken from the patient were sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency laboratory for rabies diagnosis. Samples included saliva, eye secretions, corneal impressions, cerebral spinal fluid and skin. Specimens were examined by direct immunofluorescence microscopy, and results were confirmed using molecular biological techniques. Virus strain identification was performed by both genetic methods and phenotypic analysis with monoclonal antibodies.

RESULTS: Initial results from direct immunofluorescence staining indicated that rabies virus was present in the skin biopsy specimen but not in the corneal impressions. This diagnosis of rabies was confirmed by polymerase chain reaction product analysis from several of the submitted specimens. Virus isolation from postmortem samples was not possible because fresh brain tissue was not available. Rabies virus was isolated from saliva and was determined to be similar to a variant that circulates in populations of silver-haired bats.

INTERPRETATION: Intravitam diagnosis of rabies in humans is very dependent on the samples submitted for diagnosis and the method used for testing. Upon first examination, only skin specimens were positive for rabies virus antigen; using polymerase chain reaction analysis, only saliva yielded positive results for rabies virus genome. Extensive testing and retesting of specimens submitted for rabies diagnosis in humans must be done to avoid false negative results.