Another province hit with surge in rabies; foxes on radar
Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 4:52 PM - Saskatchewan has become the latest province to deal with an uptick in rabies cases, following southern Ontario -- which has seen over 100 cases this year, and Nunavut, which reported an unusually high number of rabid foxes last spring, lasting into early 2016.
While it's rare for a human to become infected with rabies, the disease is serious with a fatality rate near 100 per cent when left untreated.
Rabies cases double in Saskatchewan
Between January 1 and July 13, 2016, Saskatchewan logged 18 cases of rabies, compared to nine cases reported during the same time last year.
In 2014, there were seven cases during that period.
Four cases involving a cow, a cat, a baby lamb and a baby goat have been confirmed this year, along with eight skunk and six bat cases.
"The primary vector for animal rabies in the province is the skunk," says Dr. Betty Althouse, Chief Veterinary Officer for the Province of Saskatchewan.
"We did have a good winter last year so there may have been more that survived the season carrying rabies rather than dying of the disease. We're not sure what's causing the increase." Dr. Althouse says rabies cases tend to increase between late July and the early fall, adding that it may be a good time to have pets vaccinated if they aren't already.
Photo credit: Graham Elder
Southern Ontario battling worst rabies outbreak in a decade
Meanwhile, rabies cases have soared 121 in Hamilton, Ont., prompting city officials to take drastic prevention measures like rabies vaccination pop-up clinics for pet owners and an aggressive campaign to distribute vaccines helicopter, dropping nearly 600,000 edible vaccines since early April.
As of July 14, tests have revealed 72 rabid raccoons, 48 rabid skunks and, as of last week, one bat.
"Nearly all human cases of rabies in Canada over the past several years have been a result of bites from rabid bats," the city said in a statement.
"Bat bites may be hard to see."
In 2015, two rabid bats were found, compared to one in 2013 and no rabid bats in 2012.
"While residents should always steer clear of wild animals, Hamilton has a high number of rabid raccoons and skunks, and the highest amount for Ontario," said Richard MacDonald of Public Health Services in a statement.
"We need people to stay away from wildlife, in particular raccoons, skunks, bats, and unknown dogs and cats. Our overall goal is to prevent human cases of rabies — as rabies is almost always fatal."
Scientists have linked the Hamilton outbreak to a hitchhiking raccoon. It appears the rabid animal from New York State hitchhiked hundreds of kilometres into the province, sparking the outbreak.
Susan Nadin-Davis, a researcher with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency focused on rabies research, told the Canadian Press (CP) her laboratory analyzed the rabies strain present in Ontario and then ran the results through a database. Nadin-Davis said the findings suggest the Ontario strain is closely related to one from southeastern New York state. It has different characteristics from strains found near the border.
"If we understand how rabies spreads, then we can identify tactics to prevent and reduce the chance of this happening again," she told CP.
Photo credit: Richard Schneider
Rabid foxes in Nunavut
Rabid foxes prompted advisories in Resolute Bay in December 2015 and Gjoa Haven in January 2016.
Last year, the territory reported 17 cases of rabies. This year's data has been sparse: According to Health Canada, only one cases of rabies, linked to a fox, has been reported in Nunavut. The caveat to that, however, is that only two samples have been submitted so far.
Unfortunately, the sheer size of the territory prevents health officials from enacting preventative measures similar to those being performed in southern Ontario. When localized outbreaks occur, officials issue public advisories and ask the public to have their pets vaccinated.
Suspicious-looking foxes or wolves are to be reported to a local conservation/bylaw officer.
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Are humans at risk?
While rabies can infect any mammal, the risk to humans remains low. "It's been many decades since there's been human cases [of rabies] in Saskatchewan," Dr. Althouse says. "We concentrate our preventative measures on protecting pets to minimize transfer to humans."
According to the Ministry of Health, the last known case of rabies infection in a human occurred in 1967 in the Ottawa area.
A total of 24 people in six provinces have died of rabies the disease in Canada since 1924.
Cases are broken down as follows:
- 12 in Quebec
- 6 in Ontario
- 2 in Saskatchewan
- 2 in Alberta
- 1 in British Columbia and
- 1 in Nova Scotia
Photo credit: Mikhail Raheb
What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that can infect most mammals.
It is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. It infects the central nervous system and when left untreated, the death rate is nearly 100 percent.
- Muscle pain
Once symptoms show up the disease has a mortality rate of nearly 100 per cent.
Rabid animals usually act in an aggressive manner, may be foaming and the mouth and display little fear of humans.
The best way to protect your pets against rabies is to keep them up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.
Avoid contact with wild animals and supervise pets when outside.
If you or a pet is bitten by an animal that may have rabies, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and consult a medical professional immediately.
Humans who have been exposed to rabies can be treated with immune globulin and four doses of a rabies vaccine over a two-week period, provided treatment is started as soon as possible.
In the past, post-exposure treatment consisted of painful injections in the stomach. Today's vaccines are less painful and can be injected into the arm and thigh.
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