KAWARTHA LAKES-If left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. By the time symptoms appear, it’s too late for treatment. Did you know these two terrifying facts about rabies?
I don’t normally write about myself or my family but in this case, I am making an exception as I feel this is an extremely important issue.
On June 23, my grandson and a few of his friends were having a typical summer day. After a hot day at school, they took to the lake for a swim to cool off. Screams of laughter and delight filled the air as the kids jumped off the dock and pretended the lilypad was a sinking ship. That all changed when all of a sudden a dog came running down to the water. She stood at the end of the dock barking and then jumped in and swam toward the kids. It’s unclear whether the dog was agitated or worried about the kids but at some point, she bit my grandson’s wrist leaving one puncture mark and a couple of scratches. He was not in pain and while the injury was minor it did puncture the skin.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal and the only way to test an animal for rabies is to examine the brain after they die. In Canada, bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons are the most common transmitters of the disease but pets and other domestic can also spread rabies. It can be spread through the bite or scratch of an infected animal according to the health unit.
The last case of rabies in a human in Ontario was in 1967. While rabies is extremely rare it is also extremely deadly.
I contacted the dog owner who assured me the dog was fully vaccinated. She assured me more than once that the dog was vaccinated against rabies, even after I explained the seriousness of rabies and asked for honesty.
I had a feeling she was not being honest so I asked for the name of her vet and called them for confirmation. The vet said due to “privacy issues” they could not tell me whether the dog had been vaccinated and they suggested I call the health unit as it has the power to get that information.
The health unit does have that power and it turned out the dog is NOT vaccinated.
Animal bites have been on the rise in Kawartha Lakes over the last five years. According to the health unit, there were more than 600 animal exposure incidents investigated in 2021 with 47 people receiving rabies vaccines from local hospitals. Two dog owners were issued tickets last year for not having their dogs vaccinated.
In 2020, there were 49 cases of rabies confirmed in Ontario while there were 42 cases of rabies confirmed in Ontario in 2021. Almost all were found in bats with one case in a domestic dog in Simcoe.
The last outbreak of raccoon strain rabies started in 2015 when an animal was inadvertently moved to Ontario from over 500 kilometres away. This was the first time raccoon rabies had been detected in Ontario in over a decade.
Since the peak of the outbreak in 2016, raccoon rabies cases have:
- declined by 95%
- been contained to within 65 km of the initial case in Hamilton
In 2015, fox strain rabies was confirmed in Perth, Huron and Wellington Counties. Prior to 2015, the last case of fox strain rabies was detected was in 2012. No cases of fox strain rabies have been detected since 2019.
In 2021, 14 cases of raccoon strain rabies were detected in Southwestern Ontario, in the Niagara region.
It is a terrifying realization that someone would lie about their dog’s vaccination status even though they knew it could (remotely) lead to the death of a child.
The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit plays a role in helping to prevent the spread of rabies. Public Health Inspectors from the HKPR District Health Unit:
- Monitor reports of rabies cases in the area to keep informed of potential rabies threats
- When notified, investigate potential human exposures to rabies
- Confine and visually inspect a dog, cat or ferret that bit or scratched a person for a 10-day observation period, from the date of exposure
- Make recommendations and deliver post-rabies treatment to physicians when vaccination required
- Assist participating veterinarians in the promotion of the low-cost rabies vaccination clinics
The province has been working to control and eliminate terrestrial rabies (raccoon and fox strains) in Ontario since the 1980s.
Every year throughout the summer and fall they distribute oral rabies vaccine baits (PDF) by hand, bait station, helicopter and airplane, conduct trap-vaccinate-release of wildlife in high risk areas, test dead, sick, and strange-acting wildlife and conduct research to help improve the effectiveness of rabies control operations.
In our case the health unit says it ordered the dog owner to confine the dog for ten days. As the 10th day was a Sunday they were to check on the dog on Monday, July 4th. 11 days of hell waiting for the result. Watching for symptoms. 11 days of no sleep.
The good news is the health unit says they checked the dog today and it is alive and healthy and they say there’s no chance of rabies transmission to my grandson. All of this worry could have been avoided.
In most parts of Ontario, your cat or dog must be vaccinated for rabies as soon as it is 3 months old and must be kept up-to-date for its entire life.
After your pet is vaccinated the first time, it must get a booster shot within 1 year of the date they were vaccinated. After that, your pet must be vaccinated for rabies every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses. Rabies vaccines used in Canada protect pets from all strains of rabies in North America.
You could be fined if your pet isn’t vaccinated for rabies.
ENSURE YOUR PET IS VACCINATED FOR RABIES!