An Emerging Rabies Situation in 2017
A Brief History of Rabies in Ontario (1950-2014)
Rabies has been noted in wildlife in Ontario since the 1950s . The most common species infected are foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats. Infection occurs through a bite or contact of infected saliva into the eyes mouth, nose or an open wound. Rabies is fatal in humans if not treated immediately and thus is a public health concern worldwide.
Before 1990, Ontario had one of the highest incidences of wildlife Rabies in the world with over 1500 diagnosed cases a year. Thanks to intensive vaccination of wildlife with oral bait vaccines (vaccine packets coated in delicious flavoring), the incidence of non-bat Rabies had been reduced by over 98 % with no cases reported in 2014. Because bats eat insects, an oral bait vaccine has not yet been developed to protect bats and the rabies incidence in bats remains steady at 1-2 % , with about 20- 30 cases of bat rabies are reported yearly in Ontario..
A New Rabies Outbreak in 2015
Unfortunately this previous success in minimizing Rabies in Ontario hasn’t continued. The incidence of rabies in Ontario has increased dramatically since 2015 with 283 cases reported. These cases are mainly isolated to the Hamilton area and are thought to be from one rabid raccoon that hitched a ride to Hamilton. This one case has spread to 175 raccoons, 76 skunks, 1 fox, 2 cows, and 2 cats in addition to 30 cases of bat Rabies. (fig 1). Cases continue to rise, and the most recent cases, at the end of 2016 are on the eastern edge of the outbreak zone, as the outbreak continues to spread toward Toronto. For this reason veterinarians have been asked to ensure all dogs and cats are up to date on Rabies vaccines.
Are Rabies Vaccines Protective for 1 or 3 Years?
At Blue Cross Animal Hospital, cats are vaccinated yearly for Rabies with the Purevax vaccine which is protective for 1 year.
Dogs are vaccinated with the Imrab 3 vaccine which is, by legal regulations, protective for 1 year the first vaccine, and for 3 years if a second booster is given within 12 months of the first. Today there is no leeway on this timing, even if booster is given one day past the 1 year mark.
Precautions to Minimize Rabies Exposure to Humans and Pets
Avoid direct contact with wildlife or abnormally behaving animals.
Vaccinate all pets for Rabies.
Report any human exposure to saliva of a potentially rabid animal to the local public health unit and a physician.
Report any pet exposure to saliva of portentially rabid animal to your veterinarian.
Report any wildlife in distress to Animal Control.
You can follow the spread of the current outbreak here at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Rabies Surveillance Page:
Sources: Worms and Germs blog, OMFRA