With the recent reports of raccoons tested positive for rabies in Hamilton and now Haldimand County, we want to help you keep your pets and families safe. Here are some important points to keep in mind:
- Raccoon rabies is a rabies strain that is most often found in raccoons, but like all rabies, the virus can infect any mammal, including humans. The raccoon rabies virus now being found in raccoons in the area can spread to foxes, skunks, dogs, cats, farm animals, etc. by contact with a rabid animal’s saliva (not necessarily a bite).
- Rabies is a very serious disease – it is almost invariably fatal once symptoms begin, but can be almost completely protected against with rabies vaccination on the appropriate time schedule.
- Ensure that your pets are up to date on rabies vaccination. This is required by law, but is of vital concern when the incidence of rabies is on the rise. Unvaccinated or lapsed vaccinated pets face up to a 6 month quarantine if they have been in contact with a rabid animal. Quarantine means that nobody can touch the pet, which is kept securely kenneled, for the entire time frame. This is usually done in a quarantine facility, since owners seldom follow quarantine regulations or have the required facilities.
- Completely indoor pets, like cats or small dogs, must also be vaccinated for rabies – accidental escape outdoors, or contact with an infected animal (such as a bat) inside the house, can infect these animals, and result in death, as well as exposure for the human family. We have seen that families can be exposed to rabies through unvaccinated pets that get sick and die (i.e. dumb rabies), but which don’t get veterinary attention for that illness.
- Teach your children not to approach wildlife at any time, and to avoid stray dogs and cats. Not all animals with rabies are violent (furious rabies) – “dumb” rabies causes an animal to get sick and die without the classic picture of the frothing animal attacking anything and everything. Make sure children know to tell an adult when they see a sick animal in the neighbourhood.
- We can only test for rabies on a post-mortem (after death), by looking for particular changes in the brain of the affected animal. The virus does not survive long after the death of the animal, but make sure to handle dead animals only while wearing gloves.
- All animal bites must be promptly cleaned with soap and water – contact your doctor for medical advice. Any animal bite that might result in the transmission of rabies to a human must be reported by law, even if the pet is vaccinated (we can’t tell if an animal has responded to vaccination and has protection against the disease). Dogs or cats that bite a human are to be quarantined for 10 days – if the animal was incubating rabies and could pass it on, it will be showing signs of the disease in that time. This helps to ensure that, if rabies vaccination for the bite victim is appropriate, it is given in a timely fashion.
- Rabies vaccination (after potential or confirmed exposure) for a person is given by injection, usually in the arm muscle, like any other vaccination. There are a series of injections, since rabies is such a deadly disease, given over a month, and there is usually another type of injection (gamma globulins) given as well, which helps to boost the immune system and help speed the vaccine response.
- If you end up having a pet in quarantine, it is vitally important that you observe the conditions to the letter – somebody’s life may depend on it.
Halidmand County Veterinarians are in the final stages of planning Rabies Programs in their clinics. Details will be posted as soon as possible.