As they say, when you look you find.

After a sick raccoon in Hamilton had an altercation with two dogs last week and subsequently tested positive for rabies, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) tested an additional 14 raccoons and three skunks that were picked up by Hamilton Animal Services since then.  These animals were all either found dead or captured and euthanized because they were sick and/or injured.  Three of these raccoons also tested positive for raccoon-variant rabies on December 9.  This indicates that the virus is circulating to some extent in the local wildlife population.  The virus probably originated in New York State, where it is still quite prevalent, but no one is sure how the virus made it 80-90 km from there to Hamilton.  It is quite possible that an infected raccoon was transported to the area by accident on a truck or other vehicle.  If the virus had moved through the wildlife population, it’s likely that an infected animal would have been detected (and tested) before now, somewhere between Hamilton and Niagara.  Likely, but not guaranteed.

There are a few big jobs on the go right now:

  • rabies_vaccine_baitsTry to contain further spread of the virus.  To do this, the MNRF has been spreading oral rabies vaccine baits to vaccinate wildlife in the areas immediately around where the four rabid raccoons were found.  By the end of the week they will have spread approximately 46 000 baits (pictured right).  Click here for an infosheet about these baits from the MNRF.
  • It’s important to figure out how far the virus has spread.  The MNRF has increased surveillance efforts in Hamilton but also in surrounding municipalities.  Abnormal raccoons are the big target, but skunks and other wildlife (particularly if its acting strangely) will also be tested.
  • Increase public awareness.  It’s amazing how with any infectious disease (even one as deadly as rabies), people can get quite complacent after a while when they don’t see of hear about any cases.

Hopefully this outbreak will be a good reminder to the public about how important those simple, easy precautions we’re always talking about really are:

  • Vaccinated your dog(s) and cat(s) against rabies – and keep them up to date (it’s the law in most of Ontario!)
  • Keep away (and keep your pets away) from wildlife.
  • If you or another person has direct contact with wildlife, contact your local public health unit so they can assess your risk of rabies.
  • If your pet has direct contact with wildlife, contact your local veterinarian to assess the risk of rabies.
  • If you notice abnormally-acting wildlife (especially if you live in one of the areas around Hamilton), report it to your municipal animal control department.  Don’t try to capture the animal yourself as rabid animals can be very unpredictable (and it’s not worth risking exposure – let the professionals handle it!).

Click here for an updated veterinary alert from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs about the rabid raccoons.