More cases of rabies suspected in Labrador

The province's chief veterinarian believes three more cases of fox rabies – which would bring the 2012 total to nine – may have been found in Labrador last month.

2012 total: 6 confirmed cases, 3 close to confirmation, 2 more under investigation

Arctic foxes on the wharf in Battle Harbour, Labrador, in Jan. 2012. (Wayne King/DFO)

The province's chief veterinarian believes three more cases of fox rabies  – which would bring the 2012 total to nine – may have been found in Labrador last month.

"We have two more probable cases from Labrador West - one collected on Feb. 18 and Feb. 21 - both found dead, and one from Makkovik [on the northern coast of Labrador] collected Feb. 16, which was shot by a resident there," said Dr. Hugh Whitney, in an email Saturday.

He said provincial officials are waiting on a final confirmation that the animals had rabies from a rabies laboratory in Ottawa.

"The test that we use in our lab, though highly specific and sensitive, is considered to be a screening test that requires confirmation," he said

He said all the confirmed cases in Labrador in 2012 have been red foxes.

Whitney said provincial officials are also investigating two more suspect cases, one in an arctic fox in Nain and another in a red fox in Natuashish.

The rabies outbreak has affected most northern communities in Quebec and includes arctic foxes, red foxes and dogs, he said.

"After the outbreak is over, Newfoundland and Labrador officials will work with researchers in other provinces to determine how the various cases are related in northern Canada," said Whitney.

Whitney said people should be vigilant about keeping their animals on leashes, and having them vaccinated against rabies

Rabies deadly

The virus can be lethal for animals and humans, if not treated right away.

Officials with the departments of Natural Resources and Health and Community Services are encouraging residents of Labrador to take the following precautions:

  • Keep domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, under control;
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies;
  • Avoid wild animals particularly foxes and wolves;
  • Report any sightings of strange-acting wild or domestic animals to wildlife enforcement officers, conservation officers, veterinarians, police or public health officials;
  • Wash any bites or other areas of contact with potentially rabid animals immediately with soap and water;
  • Immediately go to your health clinic or emergency department for treatment of any animal bites. Any significant contact with potentially rabid animals should be reported to public health officials.