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Raccoon rabies on the rise

There has been a resurgence of raccoon rabies in Ontario since 2015. The MNRF will be conducting rabies vaccine bait drops this summer. Submitted

There has been a resurgence of raccoon rabies in Ontario since 2015. The MNRF will be conducting rabies vaccine bait drops this summer. Submitted

A recent rise in the number of confirmed cases of rabies in raccoons and foxes in parts of southwestern Ontario has led the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to schedule rabies vaccine bait drops across Eastern and Southern Ontario this August, including Stratford, Hamilton, the Niagara peninsula, and the greater Toronto area – including Brampton, Mississauga, Burlington and Oakville.

The aerial drops will be primarily in rural and wooded areas, to inoculate wildlife. Ground crews will also be working throughout the summer and fall to distribute vaccine baits in urban areas and cities in the raccoon rabies control zone, which includes  Toronto. A total of 250,000 baits will be distributed.

The flavoured baits are small blister packs – about the size of a loonie – and khaki green in color. The lard-based baits, said to have a vanilla flavour, will immunize most of the skunks, foxes and raccoons that eat them.

Residents are asked not to disturb the baits. The MNRF says the baits are not harmful to pets or people, but advise contacting a vet, if a pet eats a bait pack.

The Ministry  has also issued the following tips, to protect your family and pets from rabies:

. Have your pets vaccinated against rabies.

. Do not feed or approach wild animals, and warn children to stay away from wild or stray animals.

. Do not attempt to trap wild animals that are causing damage to your property. Instead, contact a professional animal control officer to remove nuisance animals. Do not trap and transport wild animals to a new location.

. Discourage wild animals from taking up residence in or near your home – by keeping pet food dishes indoors, only putting out the garbage on the day of collection, closing off entrances and crawl spaces under porches and buildings.

. Report any animals behaving strangely to your local animal control office, or to police if there is imminent danger.

. Do not touch dead or sick animals, unless you are wearing protective gloves. Contact the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)  to report animals that may have died of rabies. Do not allow pets to get at the carcasses.

Rabies is a reportable disease. So far in Ontario, 586 suspected cases of rabies have been investigated by the CFIA – with 64 confirmed cases of rabies, 38 in raccoons, and 18 in skunks.

Raccoon rabies was initially eradicated in Ontario in 2005, but there was a resurgence in 2015. Since then, over 300 cases of raccoon rabies have been reported, most in the Hamilton area.

If you think that you or any family member may have been in contact with a rabid animal, or if you are bitten or scratched by an animal,  immediately contact the Simcoe Muskoka District health unit, your family doctor or emergency department. If a pet has been exposed to an animal that may have rabies, avoid touching your pet with bare hands. Wear gloves, and wash any wounds thoroughly with soap and water, if you can safely do so, and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

If an animal is acting strangely or appears to be sick, and no people, pets or livestock have been exposed, contact municipal animal control or the OSPCA.

For more information, call the Ontario Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656. The health unit can be contacted at 1-877-721-7520, or www.simcoemuskokahealth.org. The CFIA website is www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/diseases.