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Rabies – Frequently Asked Questions

Hamilton residents are growing increasingly concerned for their safety, as well as their pets, after three more confirmed cases of raccoon rabies have been discovered in Hamilton, bringing the total number of cases to four. The deadly infectious disease is making its way back into Ontario after a nearly a decade of no confirmed cases.

Many people are left with questions and concerns about the rabies virus and what action steps to take to protect themselves, their families and their pets.

Below, we take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions concerning rabies.

What is rabies?

  • Rabies is a viral infection of animals that can be transmitted to humans.
  • It is caused by a virus of the Rhabdoviridae family, which attacks the central nervous system and eventually affects the brain.
  • The virus is usually found in the saliva of an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms occur.
  • Rabies can occur in any warm-blooded animal, domestic and wild- commonly, dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, wolves and bats.
  • Animals having potential interactions with people such as cattle and horses can acquire rabies and may transmit the disease to human


How do you know if an animal has rabies?

  • There are 2 forms of rabies illness seen in animals. One is known as the furious from and animals with this type of rabies can exhibit symptoms such as agitation and increased aggressiveness early on, followed by depression, paralysis, and eventually death.
  • The other type of rabies is called the dumb, and these animals are lethargic, depressed, and eventually die. Because many illnesses can cause these types of symptoms, rabies can be difficult to diagnose.
  • You cannot always know if an animal has rabies, but if you observe “a pet animal behaving wild or a wild animal behaving tame”, you should consider rabies as a possible cause, and take appropriate precautions.
  • There is no test of a live animal that can detect the presence of the rabies virus. In order to determine if an animal has rabies, brain tissue must be examined for the presence of characteristic lesions.


What animals get rabies?

  • Only mammals, including people, can get rabies. Rabies occurs most often in wildlife, particularly raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, and foxes. These animals represent 95% of the cases in the United States.
  • Farm animals, dogs, and other domestic pets can also become infected so take measures to keep wild animals from entering houses, barns and garages.
  • Small rodents such as rats, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels are rarely infected.
  • Rabid animals are usually either vicious or aggressive, or may appear to be drunk and have trouble walking. Some animals may be rabid even though they appear to be normal.
  • People should stay away from all wild and stray animals which are aggressive or appear to be sick.


How is rabies transmitted?

  • The rabies virus invades the nervous system of mammals.
  • It is primarily transmitted from the rabid animal’s saliva when it bites or scratches someone.
  • Licks to wounds or grazed and broken skin, or to the lining of the mouth and nose, can also transmit the disease.


What is Hamilton, ON doing to contain the rabies virus?

  • Ministry officials were in a helicopter over Stoney Creek on Wednesday, December 09, dropping baited vaccines to the ground below in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
  • This was originally intended to be a one and done precautionary measure — but now, there will be ongoing monitoring in the city for at least two years, Associate Medical Officer of Health Jessica Hopkins said.
  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is also now expanding the geographic scope of the bait drop from the original area between the Red Hill Valley, Mud Street, Fruitland Road, and the lakeshore to include Haldibrook Road, Glancaster/Upper Paradise and Woodburn Road.
  • Chris Davies, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ manager of wildlife research, said that 46,000 bait vaccines will be dropped in the Hamilton area by the end of the week.
  • The ministry has a stockpile of 500,000 bait packs to draw from in case of an incident like this, Davies said. That’s a plus, as it takes about five to six months to make. A second round of vaccine baits will be dropped in the spring and summer, Davies said. By then, the province should have a handle on the spread of the infection.


How is rabies diagnosed?

  • In animals, rabies is diagnosed using a test which looks for the presence of rabies virus in brain tissue. In humans, several tests are available to confirm rabies disease once a person becomes ill; however, there are no tests which can detect if rabies has been transmitted from exposure to a rabid animal before a person becomes ill.


 Is there immunization against rabies?

  • Yes, there is an effective, safe vaccine against rabies. Certain groups of people at higher risk of being exposed to rabid animals should consider vaccination to protect themselves: Those who work with animals (including veterinarians, animal health workers, conservationists, zoologists etc.)
  • Travelers who are planning to visit remote areas where there is a risk of rabies, and medical care is difficult to obtain or may be delayed (for example, hiking through remote villages where dogs are common). Although vaccination does not eliminate the need for additional therapy after a rabies exposure, it simplifies management by eliminating the need for anti-rabies immune globulin and decreasing the number of doses of vaccine needed.


Can I get rabies in any way other than an animal bite?

  • Occasionally reports of non-bite exposure are such that post exposure prophylaxis is given. Inhalation of aerosolized rabies virus is also a potential non-bite route of exposure, but other than laboratory workers, most people are unlikely to encounter an aerosol of rabies virus.
  • Non-bite exposures to rabies are very rare. Scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or other potentially infectious material (such as brain tissue) from a rabid animal constitute non-bite exposures.
  • Other contact, such as petting a rabid animal or contact with the blood, urine or feces (e.g., guano) of a rabid animal, does not constitute an exposure and is not an indication for prophylaxis.
  • How long can the rabies virus survive in the environment? The rabies virus is fragile under most normal conditions. It is destroyed within a few minutes at temperatures greater than 122°F, and survives no more than a few hours at room temperature. The virus is no longer infectious once the material containing the virus is dry.
  • The rabies virus is also easily killed by most common detergents and disinfectants including household bleach, (1/2 cup per one gallon of water).


How does one treat an animal bite? If a person is bitten by an animal:

  • Wounds should be washed and flushed immediately with soap and water for 10–15 minutes. If soap is not available, flush with water alone. This is the most effective first-aid treatment against rabies.
  • Wounds should be cleaned thoroughly with 70% alcohol/ethanol or povidone-iodine, if available.
  • As soon as possible, take the person to a healthcare facility for further treatment.


What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?

Human rabies has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain or itching at the site of the bite wound (in 80% of cases)
  • Fever, malaise, headache lasting for 2–4 days.
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)
  • Intolerance to noise, bright light or air
  • Fear of impending death
  • Anger, irritability and depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • At a later stage the mere sight of water may provoke spasms in the neck and throat
  • The duration of illness is usually 2–3 days, but might stretch to 5–6 days or more when receiving intensive care support.


Is there any specific treatment for a rabies patient?

  • There is no specific treatment once rabies develops. There is almost nothing that can be done apart from keeping the patient comfortable, and free from physical pain and emotional upset.
  • Precautions should be taken by the caregiver to avoid bites and saliva contamination of mucous membranes and wounds by using personal protection equipment.
  • Keep the patient in a quiet room with subdued light and protect them from stimuli (e.g. loud noises, cold air) that are likely to increase spasms and convulsions.
  • Sedation with diazepam 10 mg every 4–6 hours, supplemented by chlorpromazine 50–100 mg, or intravenous morphine if necessary, will help to control muscular spasms and excitability.
  • Feeding orally is usually impossible. Fluids should be given intravenously.


How can protect my pets?

  • Vaccination and animal control programs have helped to prevent rabies in most pets.
  • It is important to keep your dog or cat up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.
  • Cats and dogs that spend time outdoors may have more risk of coming into contact with a rabid wild animal, but it is important to also vaccinate pets that stay indoors.
  • See your veterinarian for more information on rabies vaccination or take your pets to state/municipal-sponsored rabies clinics.


With the cold weather upon us, raccoons will be trying to find a warm, secure place for the winter. Your chimney or attic may be  prime location for them. If you suspect that your home or attic is home to raccoons that you should have them removed and excluded immediately by a professional. All Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control technicians have received rabies vaccinations and are trained in how to properly handle wild animals.

Call Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control today: 1-888-592-0387.

Proudly serving: Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga, Brampton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge and the Niagara Region.




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About the author:Founder of Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control in 1989. Canada's largest urban wildlife removal and exclusion company. Industry leader and pioneer. Split, Scram, Scoot! However you want to say it, Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control has helped over 200,000 home owners and businesses safely and effectively resolve their wildlife issues. Happy to discuss business and franchising opportunities

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