Hamilton officials issue rabies warning
Residents advised to steer clear of stray cats
Public health is warning people to avoid contact with stray cats after a second feline tested positive for rabies on Monday.
The two cats are Ontario’s first domestic animals found with raccoon strain rabies since an area wildlife outbreak in late 2015.
“Now that we have two cats that have tested positive, that risk (of humans getting rabies) is real … People need to take precautions,” says Susan Harding-Cruz, vector-borne disease manager for Hamilton public health.
“The thing with rabies is that an animal can appear normal just prior to exhibiting symptoms … but still be able to transmit the virus.”
The cat was found Jan. 29 in Glanbrook and dropped off at animal control. It then developed symptoms and died on Feb. 1 as it was being sedated for euthanasia, said Harding-Cruz.
Test results on Monday confirmed it had rabies.
Now officials are asking anyone who lost, abandoned, fed or came in contact with a male adult orange tabby in an area bounded by Rymal Road, 5th Line, and Fletcher and Harrison roads, to contact them.
“We want to talk to them to help them assess their rabies risk,” Harding-Cruz said.
In addition, city staff was out in the rain Tuesday afternoon delivering handouts to about 50 homes to alert residents about the rabid cat.
In August, a cat that roamed parts of Ancaster was also found to have rabies when it died.
Of the 278 animals found since December 2015 with rabies in Ontario, 224 were found in Hamilton — almost all were raccoons and skunks. The outbreak, instead of slowing down, has now jumped to cats.
“We don’t expect to eliminate the virus in less than five years,” said wild-
life research manager Chris Davies with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Before this outbreak, the last rabid wildlife found in Hamilton — two foxes and a skunk — were in 1994, said Harding-Cruz.
Until last August, Hamilton did not have a rabid cat since 1993.
The city does however, see a bat strain of rabies surfacing almost every year, she said.
Before this outbreak, this raccoon strain of rabies found in raccoons and usually skunks, was eliminated in 2006, she said.
Davies said the strain re-entered southern Ontario from New York state.
The ministry’s rabies control program, which includes putting out vaccine baits for wildlife consumption, cost $4 million to $4.3 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year, with similar expenses expected in 2017-18, Davies said.
If the rabies virus was not controlled, the estimated costs to deal with it, including treatments and dealing with infected animals, is estimated at $8 million to $12 million per year, he said.
The city last year received about $365,000 from the province to combat the outbreak with two public health inspectors and a public awareness campaign. It will apply for the same funding this year, plus money for an additional animal control worker.