Animals on a farm in Perth County are under confinement after a calf on that farm tested positive for rabies according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
The PDHU said the cow was infected with the Arctic fox strain of rabies, which arrived in Ontario in the 1950s. It’s the first time the strain has surfaced in the southern part of the province since 2012. The Arctic fox strain of rabies that was found is different from the strain of rabies that has been identified in raccoons in Hamilton.
“Between 1958 and 1990, we had 22,000 rabid red foxes in Ontario,” said Dr. Maureen Anderson, lead veterinarian of animal health and welfare with the ministry.
“We beat it back, and the last known pocket of Arctic fox variant rabies was actually in that Perth district.”
“What likely happened is we pushed it down below the level of detection, but there may have still been a couple of pockets where the virus was still circulating in the wildlife population and only now has spilled back over into the domestic animal population.”
She said that the Ministry of Natural Resources will begin dropping vaccinated bait in the Perth area in the spring, in order to reduce the number of undetected cases of rabies among wild fox and skunk populations.
In the meantime, she encouraged farmers to be on the lookout for wildlife in their barns or in contact with their animals.
“The message we really want to get out is that rabies is still here,” said Dale Lyttle, senior public health inspector with the Perth District Health Unit.
“A lot of people get complacent and they don’t think rabies is a concern, but it does pop up from time to time as this case is showing us.”
It’s the law in Ontario that all cats and dogs over three months of age be vaccinated against rabies to protect not only the animal, but the human population.
“The odds are pretty good whatever animal passed the disease to the cow is dead, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other cases of rabies out there,” said Davies.
“Whenever we get these lulls in rabies, people let vaccinations lapse,” he said.
Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control CEO, and wildlife expert with over 27 years’ of experience, Bill Dowd, speculates that the virus is spreading as a result of animals being trapped and being relocated.
‘Many people still believe that trapping nuisance wildlife and driving it to the country is the best way to solve conflicts. In fact, relocating wildlife is one method that should absolutely be avoided to help contain the spread of rabies, said Dowd.”
Davies, said it was most likely a skunk or a raccoon, which both den around barns, unlike foxes.
Davies said that over the next few months the Ministry will be collecting samples in a 50 kilometer radius of the farm to see if more rabies cases are discovered, they’ll then use that data to determine where to drop bait from planes in the spring when animals become active.
“We’ll be working together with the health units, and animal control folks in the area to collect samples of strange acting animals which we’ll screen here at our lab and see if we can find any additional cases,” he said.
“We have some work ahead of us. On the other hand we actively worked on fox rabies control in southern Ontario and eliminated it four years ago and we actually have a better vaccine now than we did then, so we have every reason to believe we can do it again.”
The oral vaccine works when an animal chews on the bait and the liquid hits the back of the throat. The vaccine used four years ago worked only on fox rabies in foxes, but a new vaccine has tested effectively on most species of wildlife for both the fox and raccoon strains of rabies.
The other animals on the farm were put under confinement, once the test came back positive for rabies.
“They’re not allowed to go anywhere,” Anderson said. “They’re being very closely monitored. They’re being kept separate from any other animals so that we reduce the risk … that there’s any further transmission of the virus.”
Anderson said that if any other animal on the farm exhibits the symptoms of rabies and either dies or is euthanized, it will be tested. A positive test will result in a lengthened period of confinement.
The ministry is not naming the farm or releasing its address for reasons of confidentiality, but assures residents of southern Ontario that there is no risk to food safety.
“There are no milking animals on the farm,” said Dr. Maureen Anderson, lead veterinarian of animal health and welfare with the ministry. “It’s not a beef operation, where they’re being readied to be shipped for meat. So there’s no risk to the food chain.”
In Canada the most common rabies carriers are raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats.
Rabid animals may appear to be extremely excited, attack objects or other animals, froth from the mouth or bite at anything.
Since rabies controls began, Ontario has reduced the number of wildlife rabies cases by more than 99%.
Besides vaccination, the PDHU recommends keeping pets indoors at night and not allowing them to run free in the neighborhood.
If pets or livestock have had contact with a wild animal, call the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs at 1-877-424-1300.
If you see suspected rabid wildlife with no known human or animal contact, call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Rabies hotline at 1-888-574-6656.