It has been just over 1 year since the discovery of the first rabid raccoon in Ontario in over a decade, and the first rabid wildlife in the Hamilton area in over two decades. Since then well over 4500 abnormal or “found dead” wildlife have been tested, and 253 animals carrying raccoon-variant rabies have been found in Hamilton and the surrounding areas (see map). To see more maps of how the outbreak has progressed, visit the OMAFRA rabies website and click the first link “OMNRF Wildlife Rabies Control Zone“. The raccoon variant has been found in 175 raccoons, 76 skunks, 1 red fox and 1 stray cat. There have been no human cases and no confirmed domestic animal cases (not counting the stray cat) associated with the outbreak, but there has been lots of effort on the part of the local public health units to provide post-exposure prophylaxis to potentially exposed people, and local veterinarians have been working with owners to ensure pets are vaccinated, and with OMAFRA when needed to arrange testing of suspect animals and confinement of exposed animals that were not properly vaccinated. The MNRF has also dropped over 1.6 million oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits in southern Ontario to help contain the spread of the virus.
In addition, almost 30 rabid bats have been detected from all over southern Ontario, and one rabid skunk was found to be carrying bat-variant rabies as well.
Two weeks ago a rabid cow was found in Perth County, but the cow had fox-variant rabies, similar to another cow in December 2015 and a skunk in March 2016 from the same region. Based on these cases we know that fox-variant rabies is still circulating in the area (at a very low level), even though no cases were detected for 3 years prior to December 2015. These cases are not related to the raccoon-variant cases in the Hamilton area.
The take-home message is that rabies is still alive and well in Ontario, but veterinarians, public health, OMAFRA and the MNRF are all working hard to protect people and domestic animals from this deadly zoonotic virus. It is critical for members of the public and animals owners to do their part as well, including:
- Avoid direct contact with wildlife (including bats) or animals that are behaving abnormally.
- Vaccinate pets and livestock that may be at high risk of exposure (or that may travel or have contact with a lot of different people, such as show or competition animals).
- Report any human exposure to saliva of a potentially rabid animal to the local public health unit, or a physician.
- Report exposure of any pet or livestock to a potentially rabid animal to your veterinarian so a risk assessment can be performed.
- Live wild animals that are in distress or acting in a threatening manner should be reported to local animal control, if available, or the local police as a last resort.