Raccoon-variant rabies cases around the Hamilton area continue to trickle in slowly but steadily each week. The total number of cases is now up to 187 since December 2015, with 132 cases in raccoons and 53 in skunks. The remaining two cases were in less common – but not altogether unexpected – species: a fox and a cat. Both were almost certainly exposed to the virus through contact with a positive raccoon or skunk. Although there is also fox-variant rabies in Ontario (most recently two cases found in the same area of Perth county between December 2015 and March 2016), this fox was from the Hamilton area and the virus was typed as raccoon-variant. It’s very important to remember that all mammals are susceptible to all variants of rabies virus (including bat-variant), the names we give the variants simply reflect the species in which each “strain” circulates most commonly.
The rabid cat was the first rabid cat found in Ontario since 2012. It was a stray cat from the Hamilton area, but it was taken to Haldimand before it got sick, by someone who wanted to adopt it. This is a relatively small-scale example of how well-meaning individuals can inadvertently help diseases move long distances very quickly (the same thing can also happen with rescue dogs from other countries, with both rabies and other diseases). Fortunately the veterinarian who saw the cat was aware that there was rabies in the area, and knew to contact the local public health unit in this case, because there was at least one person who was exposed to the cat’s saliva. Once the test result was known, OMAFRA also assisted the local veterinarians with recommendations for management of any pets that had potentially been exposed to the cat. The public health unit has ensured that any exposed people are provided with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Stray, ferral and community cats are often unvaccinated and are at increased risk of exposure to wildlife (some of which they may even compete with for food sources), and they can pose an increased risk of rabies transmission to people because of increase contact with humans who feed them or otherwise encounter them.
The City of Hamilton, with the help of ten local veterinarians and many other volunteers, has organized a large public rabies vaccination clinic for tomorrow (September 17). They are hoping to vaccinate 500 cats and dogs. Owners can bring their pets to Gage Park from 9AM-3PM and have them vaccinated for rabies for $25 each.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry continues to test wildlife from the surveillance zone that are either found dead or euthanized due to illness or unusual behaviour. They have also produced two new posters for the public about Protecting yourself and your pets and Rabies vaccine for wild animals (the later is specifically for people living in the zones where the MNRF is distributing oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits for wildlife). Printed copies of these posters are also available through the MNRF.
Rabid bats also continue to be found periodically throughout Ontario, which is not unusual as it is well known that rabies is endemic in the bat population at a very low level. That’s why it’s always important to avoid contact with bats (and to vaccinate even indoor cats – because bats can and do get inside periodically!).
The latest terrestrial case maps and maps of the baiting zones can be found on the OMAFRA rabies website (along with lots of detailed information for Ontario veterinarians), as well as the Ontario.ca rabies website on the “rabies in wildlife” page.