Here are some more leftover questions from the talk I did a talk recently for Third Age Learning in Guelph:

As West Nile virus seems to be spreading, is there a vaccine becoming available for the general population?

Probably not, but that’s just a guess.  While it should be possible to make an effective human vaccine, I suspect companies aren’t lining up to do it.

We have an effective vaccine in horses, so why not people?

It’s a lot easier and cheaper to get an animal vaccine licensed. People are probably also more willing to vaccinate their horses than themselves for a rare disease like this (especially when you consider how low flu vaccination rates are, despite how common flu is and how many people it kills).

So, I suspect this is a situation where it would be technically feasible to do, but from a market standpoint, it’s just not practical.

A raccoon was trying to get into some stores at Speedvale Mall on Sunday. What can one do?

Stay away. I don’t mean run screaming from the raccoon, but don’t touch it.

It was probably a normal raccoon doing what raccoons do… looking for food.

It’s hard to know the exact context from the question.  If the critter walked in the front door and was cruising through the public area, unconcerned about people or looking otherwise abnormal, I’d be concerned. Since raccoon rabies has yet to be found in Guelph, but it’s not too far away, we’re in an area where surveillance is important. Testing of the raccoon might be performed if it was caught. Catching it is the issue. The provincial ministry in charge of rabies in wildlife is the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNRF).  The provincial agriculture ministry (OMAFRA) helps veterinarians deal with domestic animal exposures. Public health deals with human exposures. But in all cases, the animal needs to be captured and euthanized (or found dead) before it can be tested, and the only agencies equipped to deal with a live animal are local animal control.  In the absence of something that indicates the raccoon is acting abnormally, I’d just steer clear.

I have two indoor cats that have never been outdoors except to visit the vet. Why do they need annual rabies shots?

This is a very common question. My initial (somewhat flippant) response is “you’d be amazed at how many “indoor” cats get hit by cars every year.” Some indoor cats never leave the house, but many sneak out occasionally. That’s a chance for rabies exposure. Even those that never leave the confines of their house can be exposed to rabies virus, as I know from personal experience with a rabid bat.  It happens far more often than people realize, even in apartment buildings in the middle of the city.

Vaccination is important to protect indoor cats against rabies, even if the risk of exposure is low. Another thing to consider is the response to exposure. In Ontario, a vaccinated cat that gets exposed to rabies but gets a booster vaccine within 7 days does not require a formal quarantine period. An unvaccinated cat gets a 3 month quarantine if it receives a rabies vaccine within 7 days and a 6 month quarantine if it doesn’t get boosted in that time frame.

We dose our dogs to prevent tick bites. Is there anything for humans in the future?

I have to assume companies are looking into this. We have very effective tick preventive medications for dogs and cats. As mentioned above, it’s much easier to get a drug licensed for animals. Unlike a vaccine, lots of people would probably be interested in an oral or topical product that repels or kills ticks, if it was safe and effective. Wariness of putting “chemicals” into their body would dispel some, but I imagine there would still be market. Whether that market justifies the millions of dollars in drug development costs is presumably something companies have assessed.