Rabies outbreak will face air and land assault
Province planning to disperse vaccine baits for infected raccoons and skunks
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.”