As Hamilton’s rabies outbreak continues it was confirmed on October 4th by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, that a raccoon infected with rabies was found in Burlington, Ontario.
The raccoon in question was found dead and called in by a citizen. As a result of the finding, residents of Burlington are being told to keep their pets on leash, keep their vaccinations current, and to not feed or approach wild animals.
“Anyone who comes in physical contact with a raccoon or other wild animal should see a physician immediately and contact the Health Department by dialing 311,” said Dr. Hamidah Meghani in a recent press conference.
Hamilton is currently in the midst of an all-out outbreak of rabies, with scores of rabid skunks and raccoons having been found in the area. The rabid raccoon finding comes a few months after Hamilton health officials confirmed the city’s first case of bat rabies this year.
Rabies outbreaks can be controlled through the employ of vaccination programs such as the spreading of anti-rabies vaccine pellets targeted at skunks and raccoons, but the virus can linger for several years. A 1999 outbreak in Brockville, Ontario took six years to be eliminated.
Rabies, if left untreated, is almost always fatal to all animals including humans. And it’s a particularly nasty way to go.
“The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death,” notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.”
In Ontario in the month of August there were a total of 32 confirmed cases of rabies. 19 of those cases were raccoons.
Rabies in humans in extremely uncommon, typically only a case or two is reported each year, most of which caused by unnoticed bat bites. One recent exception occurred in late August of this year in Ontario. A man was bitten by a cat who later tested positive for rabies.
The recent outbreak of rabies in Ontario is said to have been caused by a fight between two dogs and a raccoon that occurred in an animal control van back in December of 2015, which was Ontario’s first reported case of rabies since 2005. Since then there has been more than 125 confirmed cases in the province. It is also suspected that the raccoon that brought the disease into Ontario managed to travel all the way from Southern New York via truck or train, suspected due to a link in rabies strains from that area.
To help prevent the spread of the disease over 600,000 rabies vaccination baits have been dropped in the wilds of Ontario since April. But the vaccinations have no effect on raccoons younger than 16 weeks, so the process of dropping the bait has to repeated again this fall.