Rabies is an ongoing public health concern, and the Northwestern Health Unit investigates every report of an animal biting a human. Rabies is a virus that is sporadically found in the wildlife population across the province of Ontario.
What is rabies and how is it spread?
Rabies is a disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of humans and other mammals. In Canada, rabies is most commonly transmitted by wildlife: foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons.
Humans and other animals can become infected during a bite or scratch from a rabid (infected with rabies) animal. This can happen if the rabid animal’s saliva or the virus comes in contact with an open cut or the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes. Once symptoms appear, if not treated, rabies is almost always fatal in animals and humans.
Keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up-to-date
The Northwestern Health Unit area was previously exempt from mandatory rabies vaccination for pets but as of July 1, 2018:
- All dogs, cats and ferrets over the age of 3 months in Ontario must be vaccinated regularly against rabies
- All horses, cattle and sheep intended to come into direct contact with the general public must also be vaccinated; and
- Horses, cattle and sheep which are only accessible to persons responsible for their care and control will remain exempt from the rabies immunization requirement
Rabies vaccinations need to be updated every 1 to 3 years in pets and livestock, depending on the vaccine product given. Contact your veterinarian for more information about vaccination or to inquire if your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Pet owners can be fined if their pets are not routinely vaccinated.
Signs that an animal has rabies
Animals with rabies will act differently from healthy animals. Animals with rabies may change their normal behaviour by:
Becoming more aggressive, timid or shy.
Drooling more than usual.
Having problems eating or drinking.
Moving slowly (wild animals).
Being afraid of water.
Squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice, rabbits, and hares are unlikely to be infected with rabies. Their bites rarely need treatment against rabies; however, the bite may need medical attention.
Follow these tips to protect yourself and your family against rabies.
Treatment for possible exposure to rabies
Based on guidelines that your doctor has received from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, he/she may give you a vaccine to prevent rabies. If the doctor decides that you need the vaccine, you will be given four doses of the vaccine over one month unless immunocompromised. An additional dose will be given at the site of the bite. (Most people will get vaccine on day 0,3,7 and 14 along with a immunoglobulin shot at the bite site on day 0).
If you have been bit
Learn about the process when someone is bit.
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