A Vancouver Island man who became the first British Columbian to die of a rabies infection since 2003 has been identified as 21-year-old Nick Major.

Family members told CTV News Vancouver Island Major was pulled over at the side of the road on his way back from Tofino in mid-May when he swatted a bat away as it flew near him.

Major was scratched, but may not have realized how serious it was.

"Even if you don't see a scratch or a bite, there's still a possibility of transmission of the virus," provincial health officer Bonnie Henry told CTV News.

On Monday evening, the B.C. government confirmed a man was exposed to the deadly virus after coming into contact with a bat, and developed symptoms six weeks later.

Major was taken to St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, but by that point, it would have been too late to administer post-exposure treatment.

"Obviously, it's just an extraordinary tragedy for his family, for his friends, for all those who were taking care of him as well," said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Major is being remembered as compassionate and talented. He was admired by the students he taught at a martial arts school in Parksville.

"Our heart goes out to Nick and his family," Cascadia Martial Arts said in a post on its Facebook page.

The post triggered an outpouring of support for Major, with one commenter pointing out the "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."

Major's death marks the first reported case of human rabies in the province in 16 years.

"While the exposure in this case was on Vancouver Island, bats in all areas of B.C. are known to carry rabies," the province said in a statement at the time, adding that medical professionals who cared for the victim and his family members are being assessed and given post-exposure treatment as needed.

Canada-wide, there have only been 24 confirmed cases since the 1920s. The most recent case was in Ontario in 2012.

Anyone who comes in contact with a bat is advised to wash the area with soap and water and immediately contact a health-care provider, even if there is no obvious scratch or bite.

Bats are the only known carriers of the virus in B.C., the government said, with about 13 per cent of bats testing positive.

"This presents an ongoing risk for people and for companion animals, such as cats and dogs. It is important to ensure pets' rabies vaccinations are up to date," the province said. "If you believe your pet has had contact with a bat, consult your veterinarian."

According to HealthLinkBC, rabies infections are usually too late to cure once symptoms appear and are almost always fatal in humans.

The virus is transmitted through saliva and works its way through the body.

"Once the virus gets to the brain, it will cause significant inflammation and impairment of the brain, and unfortunately this is a terrible virus," said infectious disease expert Isaac Bogoch. "It is fatal about 100 per cent of the time once it reaches the brain."

Symptoms of rabies usually begin three to eight weeks after exposure and include a fever, headache, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle spasms, weakness and strange behaviour.

As the disease progresses, symptoms become more serious and can include restlessness, paralysis, hallucinations and seizures.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's St. John Alexander and CTV News Vancouver Island