'Unbelievably devastating': Man, 21, dies from rabies after brief encounter with bat

A 21-year-old man has died from rabies after coming into contact with an infected bat, possibly unaware of the gravity of the encounter, according to doctors.

Canadian Nick Major was spending time outdoors at Vancouver Island in mid-May when he came across the nocturnal mammal in an "unusual" daytime encounter, health officer Dr Bonnie Henry told CBC News.

He was pulled over at the side of the road when he brushed off a bat which flew near him, CTV News reported.

Nick Major died after contracting rabies from a bat. Source: GoFundMe

Dr Henry said the bat “ran into” the young man, who may not have realised the dire consequences of the collision.

"As is often the case, when you come in contact with a bat, you may not actually see a scratch or bite," Dr Henry told CBC Tuesday.

"Clearly, in this case, there was at least a small puncture wound that led to the infection."

Mr Major reportedly developed rabies symptoms six weeks later, leading to his death on Saturday.

Family, friends devastated by ‘inspiring’ young man’s death

His family announced the heartbreaking news Sunday, on a GoFundMe page set up to support them with medical and funeral expenses.

“It is with profound sadness today that Nick went peacefully in his sleep this morning. Nick was an inspiration to everyone, and his memory will continue to inspire others as we remember him,” they wrote.

“This was such a shocking and unbelievably devastating loss for Nick's family.”

Tributes have poured in to the Facebook page of the martial arts studio where the young man worked as an instructor.

"We all will miss him and the sudden loss of such an incredible role model will be felt deeply by this entire community, young and old," one parent wrote.

Another wrote: "You made such a tremendous impact on the people of this community, on the kids who saw you as a hero and friend, on the parents who quickly knew they could trust you absolutely with helping to guide and shape the lives of their kids.”

Can Australian bats spread rabies?

Globally, bats are the natural hosts of a number of viruses that can cause fatal disease in humans.

However, the rabies virus has not been found in any Australian bat species, according to the Australian Bat Society.

“In Australia, bats are natural hosts for a number of viruses. The two most significant, because they can cause life-threatening disease in humans, are Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) and Hendra virus,” an Australian Bat Society fact sheet states.

Rabies has not known to infect Australians, but Australian bat lyssavirus is in the same virus family and can infect both flying-foxes (pictured) and bats. Source: Getty Images

ABLV is in the same virus family as rabies, and occurs in both flying-foxes (fruit bats) and insect-eating bats in Australia, but infects less than one per cent of our free-living bats.

There have only been two cases of ABLV in humans in Australia, both of which were fatal, according to the Australian Bat Society.

One person was infected from a black flying-fox (pteropus alecto), the other from a yellow-bellied sheath-tail bat.

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