For several years we have enjoyed a run of zero confirmed rabies cases in terrestrial animals in Ontario. Occasionally cases were reported in bats, but the greater risk to people comes from infected local wildlife such as raccoons and skunks. This is due to the fact the disease spreads so quickly. Unfortunately, all it took was one infected animal being introduced into the local environment, fast forward a few months and we have a full-blown outbreak.
A rabid raccoon hitched a ride an estimated 500 km's from New York State arriving in Hamilton in December 2015. While in an animal control van, the infected animal got into a fight with two dogs. Upon testing of the animals after the altercation, the virus was detected. Before this incident, there had been no cases of rabies in terrestrial animals since 2005. By February 2017 we had 277 cases confirmed in raccoons alone.
This is the most concerning trend to city and suburb dwellers. Humans (and more frequently our pets) are much likelier to come into contact with a raccoon than any other animal that carries the disease.
- 2 types of rabies - dumb form and furious form. Each has its own characteristics we will explore in more detail shortly.
- Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals.
- Any mammal can contract the diseases - humans, livestock, pets, wildlife.
- The incubation period is typically 3-8 weeks. But in some
casesit has been as short as 9 days and in rare cases as long as several years.
- Infected creatures usually die within a few days of symptoms appearing.
- Each species contracts a species-specific strain. This allows the virus to live longer on its host.
Measures have been taken to control the outbreak. The Ontario Government is dropping vaccination packets in the affected areas. Within two weeks of consuming the packet, animals will be immunized. These packets are green in color and are not harmful if humans come into contact with them. See a picture of them here for easy identification. These measures will help control the outbreak, however, there are several steps we can take to contribute as well.
Sign To Look Out For
One of the best things we can do to minimize the chance of interacting with a rabid critter is to know what to look for, and what to avoid:
- Infected animals often will be skinny, with dirty fur.
- They may display aggressive behavior.
- They may also appear uncoordinated and dazed.
- Infected nocturnal animals may be seen wandering openly during daylight hours
There are two basic types of rabies, dumb form
Preventative Measures To Consider
Risk of infection in people is very, very low. However, because rabid wildlife often
The risk is significantly higher for household pets and that is where our vigilance is required.
Steps To Take:
- Take your pets for regular vet visits and keep vaccinations current.
- If you suspect an animal may be infected, keep your distance.
- Avoid any animal carcasses you come across, even frozen carcasses can still transmit the virus.
- Report any suspected cases immediately. If its an emergency situation contact your local police. For non-emergency situations contact animal control. (In Ontario you can contact the SPCA or Humane Society)
Between 2005 and December 2015 the rabies cases in Ontario were virtually non-existent. By end of the year 2016, there were 288 confirmed cases in Ontario.
2016 Ontario - infected animals by species:
Raccoons - 171
Skunks - 84
Bats - 29
Other - 4
It is expected since the time these figures were published the instances will have increased significantly. By February 2017 there were 277 cases
Initially, all cases were in the Hamilton / Caledon area. However, in recent months there have been reported cases in Halton and Brant County.
The best thing any of us can do to contribute to minimizing the impact of this rabies outbreak is to remain aware when around wildlife. Also, it is very important to keep an eye on your pets when outdoors, especially in remote areas. And do not let them approach any dead animals for a sniff.
If you witness any suspicious behavior contact wildlife control immediately. Raccoon removal should only be done by professional wildlife technicians.