A Surrey woman named Melanie Jurik sought treatment at Surrey Memorial Hospital after a raccoon attacked her in her parent’s backyard, biting her foot. But rather than getting rabies shots as a precaution, she said, she’s instead received a big dose of frustration.
The raccoon sank its teeth into her heel as the 39-year-old mother of two was rescuing her 115-pound Mastiff-Rottweiler dog “Goldy” from the late night attack on Monday, July 16.
Jurik said she had taken her dog outside to do its necessaries, heard a “thumping,” and “all of a sudden she (Goldy) got scratched from her nose across her mouth.”
When Goldy turned around, Jurik said, the raccoon jumped on the dog’s back. “I pulled it off and it tried chasing us into the house so I put my foot out to stop it and that’s when it bit me in the heel.”
Jurik said she went to Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency department seeking treatment, fearing the raccoon might have been rabid, and says Fraser Health is refusing to authorize a rabies vaccine for her. She’s worried, as the clock is ticking. There is a window of time in which one can be treated for rabies before there is no cure, with ugly and fatal results.
“She is worried of course,” Jurik’s friend Serene Yoshiko told the Now-Leader. “I’m from the U.S. and it is standard precaution to treat someone as though they have been exposed, because only a handful of people have ever survived rabies after onset of symptoms, mostly by being put into a medically induced coma, after which they have to learn to walk and talk again. So that’s not ideal for a mother almost 40.”
“They keep sending her away without the rabies protocol,” Yoshiko said. “This is resoundingly unheard of!”
The raccoon bite on Melanie Jurik’s heel. (Submitted photo)
Fraser Health has released the vaccine before, for raccoon attacks.
Former White Rock mayor Catherine Ferguson in March 2009 was attacked by a raccoon that chased her up her stairs. It came at her from the other side of her patio and bit her leg, Ferguson told the Peace Arch News in a report published March 25 of that year.
Ferguson told the Peace Arch News that Fraser Health advised her to take rabies shots, which cost about $1,500 and were covered by the BC Centre for Disease Control. “There’s no record of rabies anywhere in the area but the reason Fraser Health were wanting me to (take the rabies shots) was as a precaution, because of the unusual behaviour of the raccoon,” Ferguson said at the time. “The reason Fraser Health were wanting me to (take the rabies shots) was as a precaution, because of the unusual behaviour of the raccoon.”
Meantime, Jurik said the medics told her they are confident she has not contracted the rabies virus, telling her “that the Rocky Mountains protected us from animals with rabies coming over.”
“I told them I know there’s a really small chance of this being the problem but I didn’t want to take the chance,” Jurik said. “I don’t really want to have to go through the rabies protocol but at the same time it’s scary because it could come out at any time. Everyone’s telling me there’s no chance of rabies here in B.C. and I mean, who knows if this didn’t get bit by a bat or something. We don’t know, right?”
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, rabies is a virus that infects the brain and nervous systems of mammals and if not treated in time is almost always fatal. “Any mammal can be infected by the virus,” BCCDC indicates on its website. “Wild animals, domestic pets and farm animals have all been known to carry the disease.”
It also goes on to say that in B.C. the only animals that carry rabies are bats — about 0.5 per cent of them — but in other parts of Canada rabies has also been found in raccoons, skunks, red foxes and arctic foxes.
On its website the BCCDC advises people who suspect they might have been exposed to rabies to “seek medical attention from your doctor or local public health unit.
“If rabies shots are received in time, rabies in humans can be prevented. If you wait until the symptoms start to appear, it is usually too late to begin effective medical treatment,” it states on the website.
Symptoms typically appear three to eight weeks after exposure but could take up to several years, and include headache, fever, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle spasm and weakness, and strange behavior.
Two products used to prevent rabies are one dose of rabies immune globulin to help neutralize the virus before it takes hold, and four doses of rabies vaccine over 14 days to help the patient’s immune system produce antibodies against the virus. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the last reported case of rabies in this province occurred in 2003.
Jurik said an SMH emergency physician sent her home after instructing her to contact the public health unit in Whalley. So she called the unit, she said.
“I did speak to someone from Fraser Health and they said the same exact thing that the doctor had said, that there was no known cases reported in this area, so that was it.”
Frustrated, she tried SMH again.
“They told me at the hospital that that guy is the only guy who can release those drugs to me, the rabies protocol, so I called him back and he left a message telling me I had to go back and see a doctor, so I’m so confused.”
“Even if it’s a small chance, it really freaks me out.”
Melanie Jurik’s dog Goldy, a 115-pound Mastiff-Rottweiler mix, was attacked by a raccoon in a Whalley backyard. (Submitted photo)
Tasleem Juma, senior consultant, public affairs, for Fraser Health, said she can’t share a patient’s private information but noted that the decision to release the rabies vaccine doesn’t happen in the hospital emergency department but rather through public health. “They have to call public health and then public health makes a determination whether or not the person needs the vaccine or not.”
Since being bitten, she said, her voice has become hoarse. She said her husband found online a thing about rabies affecting vocal chords, “and that kind of freaked me out.
“So I called 811, the nurse line. I spoke to a lady there for quite a while and we went through all the options and she said ‘Well, I think you should go back to Surrey Memorial and see what they have to say about it,’ and so I did.”
Jurik said the second time she sought help at SMH, she spent most of the night waiting at the hospital. “I said to them, ‘Well, what would you do in my position? If this was you, wouldn’t you want to make sure there was no chance’ and they said they felt very confident that there’s no way that I could have been infected by the rabies virus.”
“The second doctor, he told me if you’re not foaming at the mouth and you don’t have drool coming out of your mouth and this and that, then you’re fine.”
“It felt like I was being shuffled back and forth, basically is what I felt like,” she said.
“The last doctor, not Dr. Murray the first doctor, but the second doctor, he was very rude and he said, ‘Well what, are you foaming at the mouth? Do you have like extra saliva, do you have a headache?’ He said to me all these things and I said well, no, but if I had that happening, I would be dead, I wouldn’t be coming to see you because there would be nothing you could do.”
“At the hospital the second doctor, when I was being like adamant and I said I’d really appreciate it if you could get the vaccine, thanks to the hospital, because that’s what the nurse line lady told me that they would do, right, and so he said I’d have to call this health guy and get it cleared from him, so he went on the phone and I don’t know who he talked to, and he simply said that the guy wouldn’t release it.”
Juma said Fraser Health is “sorry to hear this patient’s experience was not what she expected.
“We take animal bites seriously and we understand she is concerned about a potential exposure to rabies,” she wrote in a statement to the Now-Leader.
“Using the BCCDC’s guidelines, our Public Health staff determine the risk to exposure and whether the Rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (RPEP) is required,” she explained. “According to the BCCDC’s guideline, terrestrial mammals in BC such as raccoons, are not known to be carriers of rabies. Many animals may act aggressively when approached by a human or a predatory animal (including dogs), particularly if they are protecting their young, are food conditioned or used to humans or have no ability to escape the situation. Bites and scratches from these animals encounters are not rare in urban and suburban settings.”
“If any patient has any concerns about their care experience, we encourage them to share their concerns with Fraser Health’s Patient Care Quality Office,” Juma said. “This provides an opportunity for us to review the care provided, answer any outstanding questions a patient may have, and make changes to the way we provide care if needed.”
What remains unanswered, however, is why a mayor received these shots and this patient has not.