Ra­bies out­break will face air and land as­sault

Prov­ince plan­ning to dis­perse vac­cine baits for in­fected rac­coons and skunks

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL

The Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry will drop more than 750,000 vac­cine baits in the Hamil­ton area this sum­mer in its lat­est ef­fort to con­trol the out­break of rac­coon ra­bies.

About 250,000 of the baits will be dis­trib­uted by hand in July and the re­main­ing 500,000 by he­li­copter in Au­gust, said min­istry spokesper­son Bev­erly Stevenson. That’s about the same num­ber that was spread last year.

So far, 318 ra­bies cases have been re­ported in On­tario with 242 in Hamil­ton af­ter test­ing was stepped up fol­low­ing a De­cem­ber 2015 al­ter­ca­tion between two bull­mas­tiff dogs and a sick rac­coon in an an­i­mal ser­vices ve­hi­cle in Hamil­ton. The rac- coon later tested pos­i­tive for ra­bies.

The dogs, af­ter go­ing through a quar­an­tine pe­riod, were deemed neg­a­tive for the dis­ease.

Since then, about three-quar­ters of the ra­bies cases brought to light were rac­coons and the re­main­ing cases in­volved skunks. In ad­di­tion, two feral cats tested pos­i­tive as did a fox and a llama on a farm in Dun­nville.

“The ra­bid llama was a bit of a sur­prise,” said Stevenson, be­cause of the ten­dency of the dis­ease to stay in rac­coon and skunk pop­u­la­tions.

Pro­vin­cial min­istry of­fi­cials be­lieve the num­ber of ra­bid an­i­mals would be far greater if not for the bait pro­gram. By

“The ra­bid llama was a bit of a sur­prise.” BEV­ERLY STEVENSON MNRF SPOKESPER­SON

con­tin­u­ing the ef­fort, they hope the out­break can be erad­i­cated within a few years.

The last time there was an out­break of rac­coon ra­bies in On­tario, it took place in the Corn­wall-Prescott area. It lasted from 1999 to 2005. There were 132 cases.

“The big dif­fer­ence there is that it was al­most en­tirely ru­ral. And here there is a lot more ur­ban area where there is a higher den­sity of rac­coons and more food sources,” said Stevenson.

Su­san Hard­ing-Cruz, the man­ager of vec­tor borne dis­ease with the city’s health depart­ment, says it’s clear that rac­coon ra­bies had been in Hamil­ton for some time be­fore the dis­ease was first de­tected in De­cem­ber 2015.

“Ex­actly how long is some­thing that hasn’t been nailed down yet,” Hard­ing-Cruz said.

Be­fore the first case was found, sus­pected rac­coons were tested if they scratched or bit a hu­man, pet dog or cat. None of those cases were found to have ra­bies.

Dead and sick rac­coons were picked up by an­i­mal ser­vices from time to time but not tested for ra­bies. Since De­cem­ber 2015, those an­i­mals have been tested, lead­ing to the posted num­bers.

Thank­fully, Hard­ing-Cruz said, there has not been any hu­man case of ra­bies in Hamil­ton for gen­er­a­tions.

She be­lieves the last one was some time between 1910 and the 1930s.

But peo­ple, she said, should “respect wildlife and stay away from it.

“The mes­sage is that ra­bies is here. It’s an old dis­ease that we need to take precautions with. Wild an­i­mals in Hamil­ton and other places do have the po­ten­tial to be ra­bid.”

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