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Increasing reports of animal rabies; Health Unit stresses pet vaccination

July 18, 2016

Sudbury & District Health Unit – After 10 years of Ontario being free from the raccoon strain of the rabies virus, the Hamilton, Niagara, and Haldimand-Norfolk areas have reported over 100 cases of infected raccoons since December of 2015. In addition to the reintroduction of the raccoon strain into Ontario, two animals infected with the more commonly found arctic fox strain of rabies have been reported in Perth County.

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted to humans when saliva from an infected animal enters a bite or scratch wound, or comes in contact with the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes. Rabies is fatal if an infected person does not receive prompt treatment following exposure.

No cases of the racoon strain of the rabies virus have ever been identified in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts. The most recent case of artic fox rabies was reported in our area in 2003, following a two year outbreak involving domestic, livestock and wildlife animal populations. Positive bats have been identified in recent years throughout the Health Unit’s service area.

Everyone must be diligent because infected animals could move into our communities and all strains of rabies can infect any terrestrial mammal. “All pet owners are urged to verify that their cat or dog’s rabies vaccination is up-to-date,” said Rylan Yade, an environmental support officer in the Sudbury & District Health Unit’s Environmental Health Division. “Ontario law requires that owners vaccinate their cats and dogs against rabies”.

Mandatory vaccination of cats and dogs not only protects pets, but also protects their owner’s family members and the community from exposure to the deadly rabies virus. Other important rabies prevention measures include:

  • Not allowing pets to roam off-leash or unsupervised, particularly at night, when animals, such as foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons, are out.
  • Preventing contact between pets and wildlife. Consult with your veterinarian if contact occurs.
  • Avoiding all human contact with wild animals.
  • Attempting to keep bats from getting inside your home or cottage.
  • Immediately washing bite or scratch wounds with soap and water, and consulting with a health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Reporting all animal bites, scratches or contacts that may result in transmission of rabies to humans to the Health Unit.

The Health Unit works with a network of local and provincial experts to closely monitor the risk of rabies within the animal population and maintains an up-to-date rabies contingency plan to ensure a comprehensive response if a threat emerges.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is taking measures in southern Ontario to control the spread of rabies across the province. For information, contact the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Rabies Hotline at 1.888.574.6656 or visit Wild animals exhibiting abnormal behaviour should also be reported to the Rabies Hotline.