Recently several raccoons tested positive for the raccoon strain of rabies in our area. Until December of 2015 we had not seen a documented positive case since 2005 of this type of rabies.
In the past fox strain and raccoon strain of rabies was brought under control through strategic dropping of vaccine-laced bait by the MNRF who developed and administers this program.
With the recent resurfacing of raccoon strain of rabies, bait dropping will be increased for the effected areas and hopefully this will work as well as it has in the past and bring raccoon rabies back under control.
Ontario has however never been rabies free. Bats do not eat vaccine laced bait, so we have always had positive cases of bat strain rabies in Ontario.
Just because this type of rabies is called raccoon strain it does not mean that only raccoons can get it. Realistically any mammal can contract any strain of rabies. Raccoons are simply more susceptible to the raccoon strain.
Early January of this year a cow in Perth County (Stratford area) tested positive for the arctic-fox strain of rabies. The how’s and why’s are a whole different story, but it proves my point about rabies strains being non-discriminatory and a health concern to all mammals.
Symptoms of rabies can vary and can basically be summarized as an animal behaving oddly (no fear of people, being overly aggressive, biting at thing, super excited behavior etc). Unfortunately these symptoms closely mimic the symptoms of Canine Distemper. Our raccoon population has been plagues by canine distemper for some time and visually the symptoms look pretty much identical to rabies. Both these diseases are usually lethal and testing for either disease is done post-mortem.
Rabies is considered a human health concern and Canine Distemper is a dog health concern (as the name indicates). It is important that you ensure your pets are up to date on their vaccines. It is actually mandatory to vaccinate your dogs and cats for rabies. Canine Distemper is also included in a basic vaccination protocol for dogs as are other commonly occurring diseases such as Parvo. Both the rabies and distemper vaccine for dogs has been proven to be effective in most cases.
Transmission of the rabies usually occurs through contact with saliva of an infected animal and is lethal in most cases. For humans we have post-exposure shots available. If you think you have been in contact with a rabid animal it is important that you contact your local health unit immediately.
If you see a mammal behaving oddly contact MNRF rabies hot line: 1-888-574-6656
If you suspect a domestic animal has been in contact with a rabid animal please contact OMAFRA: 1-877-424-1300
In all cases please err on the side of caution and don’t take any unnecessary risk.