Rabies is still here, and still a threat
Hamilton has a rabies problem.
The recent confirmation of a second feral cat in the area with rabies should raise concerns, for a couple of important reasons.
First, we have an abundance of stray felines wandering this city; some estimates put the number at well over 100,000. To put that in perspective, you could fill Tim Hortons Field, home of the Tiger-Cats, four times over with homeless tabbies. And stray cats, unlike the mangy critters that we tend to associate with the disease, may appear to be as cute and approachable as the pets sunning themselves in your front window. This leads to increased chances of contact between humans and animals.
Second, rabies, if left untreated, is almost always fatal in humans.
It’s easy to become complacent about diseases that have been around for generations and have seemingly been all but eradicated. After all, we vaccinate our pets against rabies; surely it must have gone the way of plague and polio by now, right?
Sadly, it continues to be a problem. After a spike in cases of raccoon rabies between 1999 and 2005, there were no reported cases for several years. In 2015, that number suddenly spiked to 24 cases. In 2016, an alarming 288 confirmed cases of rabies were cited, which led to aerial baiting programs to try to slow this latest outbreak. More concerning is that this time, Hamilton and the surrounding area appear to be at the centre of the outbreak.
Rabid animals often appear unco-ordinated, listless or partially paralyzed. Some will foam at the mouth. Depending how advanced the virus is, they may seem overly aggressive and manic, prone to bite or growl.
Rabies is spread through saliva, not blood or feces. Humans are most at risk if bitten; but any contact with a wild animal should end with a visit to a medical professional. It’s also worthwhile to note that they no longer give shots for rabies in the stomach. That practice ended years ago. Today, it’s a series of shots in the upper arm that may ultimately save your life.
In an urban landscape, it’s common to see raccoons wandering about, or bats winging overhead at dusk. We have little choice but to share our city space with them, despite being the two species that account for the majority of rabies cases.
We shouldn’t panic. Vigilance remains the best defence. Get your pets vaccinated, and keep an eye on them when you let them outside.
Given our wild animal population, our mix of green space and urban space clashing, it’s not hard to see how rabies could spread from species to species, including stray cats. During this current outbreak, we should give all of them — not just skunks — a wide berth.