MUSKOKA - While we don’t hear about human rabies cases very often in Canada, the case this spring in Toronto should remind us all that preventative measures are still very important. While that particular case was found to have been contracted abroad, rabies can still be found in local animals. Infected animals can spread the disease in saliva during a bite or scratch incident.
The health unit investigated more than 1,100 animal exposures in Simcoe Muskoka last year, and more than 50 victims required post-exposure rabies immunizations
Good preventive health measures have been very effective in Canada, which explains why we rarely have human rabies cases. Rabies vaccine baiting programs have reduced the prevalence of rabies in the local fox, skunk and raccoon populations. Nevertheless, the health unit investigated more than 1,100 animal exposures in Simcoe Muskoka last year, and more than 50 victims required post-exposure rabies immunizations.
Rabies is entirely preventable. You can reduce your risk of rabies by:
• Avoiding contact with and feeding of unfamiliar domestic animals and all wild animals, especially when the animal is obviously ill, acting strangely, or is found dead;
• Not allowing pets to run loose outdoors;
• Keeping your pet’s rabies vaccination up-to-date, either through your veterinarian or from a low-cost rabies clinic offered this fall; and
• Reporting any domestic dog or cat, and livestock encounters with suspicious wildlife or bats (bats remain a significant carrier of rabies in Simcoe Muskoka) to the Animal Health Branch of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at 705-739-0008.
If you or a family member is unfortunate enough to be bitten by an animal, wash the wound right away with soap and water. Clean the wound thoroughly and then contact your doctor. You should also ensure the health unit is notified of the incident so that it can be investigated and assessed for potential rabies risk. Based on this assessment, post-exposure rabies immunization may be recommended.
One important way to protect your family and yourself is to vaccinate pets against rabies. Every year the health unit works with local veterinarians to offer low-cost rabies clinics, and these clinics are again being offered until October 27. Remember, rabies vaccination is mandatory for cats and dogs in Ontario. Failure to vaccinate can result in a fine or worse for the owner if the animal becomes infected or is involved in a biting incident.
For more information about rabies, or to find out about a low-cost clinic near you, call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or visit our website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.
Dr. Pfaff is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.