Rabies investigations climbing steadily in the London region

Rabies investigations are up in the region for the fourth straight year according to new numbers released by the Middlesex-London Health Unit reveal. Stats show there were 1,079 investigations last year, with 102 people needing rabies vaccinations.

Middlesex-London Health Unit attributes increase in cases to awareness by police, health workers

(CBC)

Rabies investigations are up in the region for the fourth straight year according to new numbers released by the Middlesex-London Health Unit. 

Stats show there were 1,079 investigations last year, with 102 people needing rabies vaccinations. 

That's 83 additional investigations, as compared to 2015, with 9 more people needing vaccines. 

The majority of the bites or scratches that were investigated involved dogs, said Betsy Kerr, the health unit's rabies coordinator. 

She credits the spike in numbers to increased public awareness that bites and scratches by animals that don't have confirmed or up-to-date rabies vaccination should be reported. 

Don't approach animals you don't know

Many bites or scratches happen when people approach animals they don't know. 

"You really shouldn't approach any type of wild animal you don't know anything about. Dogs and cats? If you don't know them, don't approach them, Kerr said."

Three of the investigations involved monkeys with all of the people having travelled to Asia or Africa where they encountered the primate. 

"We get those every year," she said. 

Betsy Kerr, the rabies coordinator at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, says an increase in rabies investigations can be attributed to an increase in awareness to report bites or scratches by animals that don't have confirmed or up-to-date vaccinations. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

There were 12 encounters with squirrels and chipmunks and one incident that involved an unknown flying critter, possibly a bird or a bat. 

"It was dark so the person didn't see what it was," Kerr said.

"People go camping and sometimes that will happen, something will get into the tent or the trailer, and then they have to get treated." 

Farms, petting zoos also common sites

There were also several instances of farm animals scratching or nibbling farmers, including one encounter with a pig, another with a donkey, and yet another with a sheep. 

Bites or scratches at petting zoos are also known to lead to rabies investigations, Kerr said. 

"Kids are curious and they want to reach out and touch," she said. "You have to teach them that if they don't know an animal, they shouldn't touch it." 

The rabies vaccine involves four shots over two weeks. 

Provincial numbers spike

Ontario has seen a spike in rabies cases in the last two years because of a raccoon that infected two dogs in the Hamilton area. 

It's believed the raccoon hitched a ride on a truck from New York. 

While numbers of rabies-positive animals have hovered in the 20s since 2011, they've jumped to 288 in 2016. 

256 of those were linked to that rabies-positive raccoon. 


Of the 1,079 rabies investigations in 2016: 

  • 638 involved dogs
  • 327 involved cats
  • 59 involved bats
  • 10 involved a rabit, gerbil or rat
  • 3 involved a groundhog, opossum, mole or weasel
  • 1 involved a sheep

Middlesex-London Health Unit rabies investigations, by year: 

  • 2016 - 1,079
  • 2015 - 992
  • 2014 - 971
  • 2013 - 822
  • 2012 - 777