Health officials have confirmed that a skunk found in the Blyth area of Huron County, north of London, Ontario, was infected with rabies virus, the first case of rabies in wild land animals in the county in ten years. The animal was submitted for testing on December 14th, whereupon the county Health Unit was notified, according to a report by Blackburn News.
Huron Health Unit officials are reminding residents to avoid contact with wild animals and to make sure that their dogs and cats are vaccinated against rabies. “A very effective way to protect you and your family from the virus is to vaccinate your pets against rabies,” said Public Health Inspector Patrick Landry in a release last year. “Rabies vaccination is mandatory for cats and dogs three months of age and older, as well as mandatory for some classes of horses in Huron County.” Huron Health says that pet owners can be fined if they do not vaccinate their animals.
Rabies has been on the increase in Ontario over the past few years, with the Hamilton area reportedly facing serious concerns over high numbers of skunks and raccoons being found with the disease. Health experts say that outbreaks of rabies in wild animal populations usually occur in cycles, the current one having not yet its peak. “We expect to have rabies cases for a while,” says Chris Davies, head of wildlife research with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, told the CBC. “It takes a while to eliminate a disease from a wildlife population.”
A viral disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, rabies can be transmitted to humans through the saliva of an infected animal, usually as a result of a bite or scratch. Most human cases of rabies documented over recent decades have been as a result of bat bites. One to three per cent of Ontario’s bat population is infected with the disease, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
This past summer, Huron County confirmed one bat found infected with rabies, the first since 2014.
Officials warned that bat bites -or even the presence of a bat indoors- should be taken seriously. “If you are bitten or scratched by a bat or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, or a wound, wash the affected area thoroughly and seek medical attention immediately,” said Landry in a June statement. “If you awaken and find a bat in your room or in the room of an unattended child or an incapacitated person, call the Health Unit.”
Outbreaks of rabies in wild animal populations are combated primarily with the use of edible rabies vaccine baits, sent throughout an area suspected to contain infected animals. Earlier this year, Ontario Natural Resources dropped 600,000 baits over a wide stretch of southwestern Ontario in hopes of hitting the area’s raccoon and skunk populations.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) states that rabies is a reportable disease under Canada’s Health of Animals Act and all suspected cases must be reported to CFIA for verification purposes.