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Pop-up rabies vaccine clinic opens in Hamilton, Ont.

File photo.

File photo.

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, May 19, 2016, 5:41 PM - Rabies cases are exploding in Hamilton, Ont., with dozens of animals said to be infected.

So far, 108 skunks and raccoons have tested positive for raccoon rabies in Hamilton since December. A rabid bat has been found in Huron country as well, with officials are calling this the worst outbreak the province has seen in a decade.

Hamilton Public Health is warning residents to avoid raccoons and skunks and to have their pets vaccinated.

Officials are stepping up their public awareness campaign in light of warming temperatures, which will make skunks and raccoons more mobile.

Pop-up clinic targets low-income families, expedites vaccination blitz

More than 100 people lined up Wednesday to have their pets vaccinated for free at a clinic on Barton St. East in the Landsdale neighbourhood.

There wasn't any formal advertising for the event, with many residents claiming they heard about it through word-of-mouth.

"You walk into the vet, it's $80. That's a month of groceries," one dog owner told the CBC. The initiative is aimed towards low-income families who may not be able to afford vaccination fees for their pets.

Officials hope that protecting more pets will help the spread of the rabies disease.

For more information on getting your pet vaccinated for rabies in Hamilton, Ont., contact your local veternarian. 

Hamilton a 'dangerous' zone

The situation has gotten so bad that wildlife workers are now treating Hamilton as a "dangerous" zone, the CBC reports.

"It's kind of like the difference between a cop going into an insane asylum and a cop going into a pre-school," Paul Stevens, the owner of All Wildlife Removal Inc. told the CBC.

"In the pre-school everyone will be respectful and fearful of the cop, but you go into a mental asylum and you don't know what you're dealing with. To us, Hamilton is a very dangerous zone."

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Prior to December, there were no reports of raccoon rabies in Ontario.

There have been no reports of anyone requiring medical attention after coming into contact with a raccoon or skunk in Hamilton since the infection began spreading.

While there's a relatively low risk that humans will become infected, there's a higher chance an unvaccinated cat or dog could.

Getting sprayed by an infected skunk won't spread rabies, but getting bitten by one could.

Raccoon rabies hasn't been seen in Ontario since 2005, while the fox strain of rabies hasn't been reported since 2010. Bat rabies is still present, but only in limited numbers.

RELATED: The surprising new weapon in the war against raccoons.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through the nervous system. It almost always fatal, with a 99.9% death rate, once symptoms, which include headache, nausea and exhaustion, appear.

Post-exposure vaccines can stop the virus before symptoms occur, if given immediately after exposure.

If you have been, or think you have been, exposed to rabies contact a health care professional immediately. If you live in the Hamilton area, call Hamilton Animal Services at 905-546-2489 if you see a dead, sick or unusual acting raccoon, skunk or other wild animal. Contact Hamilton Animal Services immediately if you live in the area and suspect you have been infected with rabies.


Rabies in Canada

Rabies remains relatively rare in Canada, with less than two dozen human deaths reported in Canada since 1925.

While raccoon rabies cases are on the rise in Ontario this year, 2015 figures across the country are low, according this chart from the Government of Canada:

Sources: CBC | Government of Canada

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