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Is the threat of rabies returning?

Sep 30, 2016
In spite of Ontario’s multi-faceted campaign of education, pet vaccination and distribution of vaccine-filled baits in the wild for foxes, raccoons and skunks, rabies cases continue to appear and pose a threat to people and animals.

In spite of Ontario’s multi-faceted campaign of education, pet vaccination and distribution of vaccine-filled baits in the wild for foxes, raccoons and skunks, rabies cases continue to appear and pose a threat to people and animals.

In the winter of 2015, a strain of raccoon rabies was confirmed in the Hamilton area and a fox strain was confirmed in the Perth area. Through that winter and spring, numerous cases were confirmed around Hamilton and Niagara.

This has raised concern in public health, as there is a serious risk of it spreading farther afield, including to Simcoe and Muskoka.

Rabies is preventable, but it can be deadly and once symptoms appear it cannot be cured. Rabies is caused by a virus that can infect any mammal, including humans. In infected mammals, the virus is found in saliva and can be spread through bites that break the skin. It can also spread from saliva on an open cut, wound or sore, or when saliva enters the mouth, nose or eyes.

Due to the recent confirmed cases of raccoon rabies, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has resumed and will continue baiting in rabies hot spot areas.

Home owners and parents have responsibilities as well. To protect families and animals, pet owners are required by law to keep their pets’ rabies vaccinations up-to-date. Through late September and early October, in partnership with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, our local veterinarians have volunteered to hold low-cost rabies clinics in a variety of locations. This is a welcome and appreciated service on their part, particularly for households with low income, as it provides a more affordable opportunity to protect family pets.

Homeowners should also keep pets indoors at night; eliminate any sources of food that may attract wildlife by leaving garbage cans indoors at night, or securing cans tightly with bungee cords; and keep garage doors closed and fix gaps or cracks in fences.

Parents should remind children that it is impossible to judge whether an animal is friendly or has rabies. Children should learn to ask permission before petting any dog or cat. If they see a lost, unknown or injured animal, they must inform an adult right away and never touch or play with any wild animal, whether squirrel, chipmunk, raccoon, rabbit or bat.

If you or a family member have been bitten or scratched by a domestic pet or a small wildlife animal, wash the wound well with soap and water and contact your family physician immediately. Either you, your doctor or the hospital emergency department must report the incident to the local health unit.

A schedule of the low-cost rabies clinics is available on the website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

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Dr. Gardner is the Medical Officer of Health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit

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