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Raccoons, Skunks, and Foxes

RABIES

Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that infects nerves in warm-blooded animals. The rabies vaccine reaches the brain through the nervous system.

Eventually it reaches the salivary glands, and the rabies virus can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. By this time, the disease has usually affected the brain and caused a change in the behaviour of the animal. It eventually causes death.

Although the animal might not be showing any signs or symptoms at the time of the bite or scratch, the animal might still be infectious and be able to transmit rabies through its saliva.

HOW IS RABIES SPREAD?

Rabies moves from an infected animal through the saliva by:

  • biting
  • contact with the virus through an open cut, sore, or wound
  • contact with the virus through mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes)

Petting a potential rabid animal or handling its blood, urine, or feces is not considered to be a potential exposure to the rabies virus, however, such contact should be avoided. Being sprayed by a skunk is also not considered an exposure. These types of human contact do not support the need for post-exposure rabies vaccination.

RACCOONS, SKUNKS, AND FOXES

In Canada, often the most proven rabid animals include: skunks, foxes, raccoons, bats, cattle, and stray dogs and cats.

An unprovoked attack (such as a wild animal approaching a human and biting for no clear reason) is more likely to indicate that the animal is rabid. Nevertheless, rabid animals may become uncharacteristically quiet. Bites or scratches to a person attempting to feed or handle an apparently healthy animal should generally be regarded as provoked. The general public should never handle wild or stray animals or any domestic animal that is behaving unusually. These precautions should be stressed to children routinely.

Generally, behaviour in wild animals makes it difficult to determine if it was unprovoked or provoked human contact, it is important to seek medical attention and contact the local health unit. The period of rabies virus shedding in a wild animal (such as a skunk, fox, or raccoon) is unknown.

WHAT IF THERE IS HUMAN CONTACT WITH A RACCOON, SKUNK, OR FOX?
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you were bitten, scratched, or exposed to the wild animal's saliva.
  • Call the health unit at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 to discuss if there is the need for post-exposure rabies vaccination.

If the raccoon, skunk, or fox that bit or scratched a person can be captured by a trained wildlife removal operator, licenced pest control operator, or local animal control services and humanely euthanized, the animal may be sent for testing to rule out potential rabies exposure. Contact the local health unit to discuss further.

WHAT'S NEW?

Re-occurrence 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 raccoon 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 animals. Leave them alone in their natural environment.
  • Vaccinate your pets.

Raccoon Rabies Situation in Ontario

Raccoon rabies has been found in the Hamilton area. Other areas outside the City of Hamilton affected by raccoon rabies strain reports include: Haldimand-Norfolk, Niagara Region, Brant County, and Halton Region.

The Ontario of Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are monitoring the raccoon rabies situation and sharing information with local health units on a routine basis.

 

For more information about rabies and your health, contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. or visit the health unit's website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

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