Province works to eradicate rabies in Southwestern Ontario

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The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has dropped rabies vaccine baits across Southwestern Ontario in response to an outbreak in the number of cases in raccoons and foxes.

The ministry has found 331 cases of raccoon rabies and nine cases of fox strain rabies since the outbreak began in December 2015. It continues to get between one and four positive cases each week although there are generally fewer cases being confirmed from the same time last year, said Kevin Middel, rabies operations supervisor.

Middel said the ministry’s enhanced surveillance program identifies over 95 per cent of the positive cases, which would have otherwise gone undetected as they wouldn’t have come into contact with humans or domesticated animals.

Middel said the ministry’s enhanced surveillance program works with partners and municipalities throughout Southwestern Ontario to test any dead or strange-acting wildlife.

The ministry drops baits in response to any positive rabies result. It’ll put baits out within 50 kilometres of a positive case. Middel said the ministry has proactively dropped baits along the border with the U.S. and Southern Ontario where raccoon rabies is common.

The baits are dropped by hand, helicopter or plane depending on the area being targeted, according to the ministry’s website.

In addition to targeting raccoons and foxes, the ministry is also targeting skunks with vaccine baits. Bats are also common carriers of rabies but they only eat insects and so aren’t targeted by bait drops.

The vaccine baiting program isn’t new. The ministry has been using a similar program since about 1989 in response to fox strain rabies, Middel said.

“We also eliminated raccoon strain rabies in 2005 from Eastern Ontario. And we were free from raccoon strain rabies for 10 years. So, Ontario is really recognized as a leader in rabies control,” Middel said.

It is suspected that raccoon strain rabies made its way back into the province from eastern New York, based on genetic evidence.

“Most likely we think it came back into the province through a translocation or a movement of an infected animal back into the province,” Middel said.

The fox strain rabies is present a really low levels in wildlife and Middel said he’s confident that Ontario will be able to eradicate it for a number of years.

Middel said the ministry expects to eradicate rabies in the province in the next three to five years.

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Protecting yourself from rabies

  • Keep your distance and don’t touch wild animals.
  • Don’t touch dead animal carcasses.
  • Stay away from animals that are behaving strangely or you suspect are rabid.
  • Stay a safe distance from wild animals at all times and don’t feed them.
  • Don’t keep wild animals as pets.
  • Never trap and relocate wildlife.
  • Vaccinate your pets.
  • Leave baby animals that appear abandoned alone for one day.

Source: Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

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