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Rabies

Wildlife

The animals in Canada most often proven rabid are wild animals (such as skunks, foxes and raccoons), bats, cattle and stray cats and dogs.

Squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice or other small rodents, rabbits and hares are only rarely found to be infected with rabies because it is believed they are likely to be killed by the larger animal (such as a raccoon or a fox) that could have potentially transmitted rabies to them.

No cases of transmission of bat strains of rabies from these small animals to humans have been found. Post-exposure rabies vaccination (PEP) should be considered only if the animal's behaviour was highly unusual. For example, a bite from a squirrel while someone is feeding it would not be considered unusual behaviour and PEP is not needed based on this information alone.

Larger rodents, such as groundhogs, woodchucks and beavers, could carry rabies, although this is rare in Canada. Bites, scratches or saliva contact from these larger animals require an assessment of the circumstances of the human contact to determine the need for PEP.

Bats have small, needle-like teeth that result in bites that can go easily undetected. Unlike other mammals that carry rabies (such as foxes, raccoons and skunks), bats cannot be vaccinated using baits.

It is not always possible to identify if a bat has rabies, however, rabid bats may display the following signs:

  • lose the ability to fly
  • active during daylight hours
  • are not afraid of noises
  • may appear to be lazy

 

It is important to seek medical attention and consult the local health unit if you have contact with a bat.

When bats are involved in an exposure that could potentially transmit rabies, a trained wildlife removal operator, licenced pest control operator or local animal control department should be contacted to capture the bat. The person should use extreme caution to ensure that there is limited contact with the bat. The bat should be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian so it can be submitted for rabies testing in consultation with the local health unit.

If a bat is wandering in daylight or crawling on the ground, it may be rabid so stay away. If you see bats outside, leave them alone. Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten, scratched or exposed to bat saliva.

If the bat is available, it may be sent for testing to rule out potential rabies exposure. Call to speak to a public health inspector at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520.

Contact the local health unit to discuss if there is the need for post-exposure rabies vaccination.

Only testing can determine whether or not the bat is carrying rabies. When a health care provider does not know this information, they may recommend rabies post-exposure vaccination.

 

In Canada, the animals likely to have rabies include skunks, foxes, raccoons, bats, cattle and stray cats and dogs.

A rabid animal could become unusually aggressive and attack a person for no reason. Alternatively, it could become uncharacteristically quiet. The general public should never handle wild or stray animals.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately and contact the local health unit.

Recurrence of Raccoon Strain Rabies

There are several different strains (types) of rabies, including raccoon, fox and bat strains. In late 2015, several cases of raccoons with raccoon strain rabies were found in the Hamilton area.

These are the first cases of raccoon strain rabies since 2005, and this serves as a reminder that raccoon strain rabies is an ongoing concern that people need to be aware of and take precautions to protect themselves from.

As a result of these cases, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proceeded with additional oral rabies vaccine baiting, targeting foxes, raccoons and skunks.

Raccoon Rabies Situation in Simcoe Muskoka

The overall risk remains low to the general public but there are measures you can take to minimize your risk:

  • report any biting, scratching or saliva contact with a racoon to the health unit.
  • contact a trained wildlife removal operator, a licenced pest control operator or local animal control services for help with removal of a raccoon on your property.
  • avoid contact with any baby or adult wild animal. Leave them alone in their natural environment.
  • vaccinate your pets.
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