Rabies cases soar in Hamilton, 65 animals infected

Hamilton Public Health is warning residents to steer clear of raccoons and skunks as cases of rabies soar throughout the city.

Public Health warns residents to stay away from raccoons and skunks

More cases of raccoon rabies reported by the City of Hamilton on March 28, 2016. (CBC)

Hamilton Public Health is warning residents to steer clear of raccoons and skunks as the number of animals testing positive for the rabies virus continues soar throughout the city.

A total of 65 animals have tested positive for "raccoon rabies" in the City of Hamilton since December — 46 raccoons and 19 skunks. Outside of Hamilton, only five other cases have been reported across the province.

Robert Hall, the director of health protection with Hamilton Public Health, said this strain of rabies is like any other strain of the rabies virus: it's deadly. 

"Any time anybody comes in contact with these (rabid) animals, they need to go to their physician or emergency room and seek medical attention immediately," he said in a phone interview. If one contracts the virus and doesn't receive treatment shortly after contracting it, they could die.

"It's serious, but this is in a wild animal population and if people aren't interacting with a wild animal then they shouldn't be exposed to it."

Stay away from raccoons and skunks

Before December last year, there were no reports of raccoon rabies in the province, Hall said. But since then, the number of infected animals has continued to rise.

The only way one can contract the virus, is by having a rabid animal's saliva or some other bodily fluid come in contact with an open wound where it can get into the blood stream. 

Getting sprayed by a skunk won't give you rabies, Hall said, but getting bit by a raccoon might.

Public Health has had no reports of anyone requiring medical attention after an encounter with a rabid animal since this all began in December. Hall said this is a result of an ongoing public education campaign and, hopefully, common sense.

"Everyone should stay away from raccoons and skunks," he said. "It's just a natural thing that we should always try to do."

With every new case of rabies identified by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the city posts an update on their website. The type of animal with rabies and the area where the animal was found are identified on this page.

A total of 23 animals (raccoons and skunks) tested positive for the rabies virus in the month of March. 

Glanbrook has seen 21 animals testing positive for the rabies virus since December (20 raccoons and one skunk).

This is a much higher count than in any other area of Hamilton; the next highest is nine animals, located in Ancaster and another nine found in Lower East Hamilton.

Get pets vaccinated

Dogs and cats typically have a much greater chance of coming into contact with an infected wild animal, Hall said. This is why these pets must be vaccinated.

Public Health has requested additional funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to launch a promotional campaign to educate the public about the issue and find a way to offer low-cost vaccinations for pets. 

"This is not something that's going to go away quickly," he said. "This is something that's becoming endemic in the population and the Ministry of Natural Resources is working on a strategy to deal with this over the next three to five years."

Efforts were made to speak to a spokesperson from the ministry but were unsuccessful due to the holiday weekend.

Email: Chris Seto Twitter: @topherseto


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