Two skunks found in Niagara-on-the-Lake have been discovered to have rabies. As a result, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has begun distributing additional oral rabies vaccine baits in the region. These baits are typically placed annually, and repeat drops are done in the instance of an outbreak such as this one.
“The baits are khaki green packets, coated with a vanilla attractant,” says Rachel Gagnon of the MNRF. “They are labelled as a rabies vaccine and include MNRF contact information.” The baits are dropped by helicopter in rural areas, and by ground crews in urban zones.
The rabies science transfer specialist continues, “The baits have been tested to ensure they are safe if accidentally consumed by domestic animals. In the past, some pets that have consumed multiple baits have experienced some digestive discomfort due to the wax content of the baits.”
While this is the first finding of terrestrial rabies in the area since 1997, there is no reason to become alarmed. “Overall in southern Ontario we have seen approximately a 50% reduction in the number of positive cases when compared to the same time last year,” says Gagnon. “MNRF staff continue to test diseased raccoons, skunks and foxes in southern Ontario (including Niagara-on-the-Lake) to monitor rabies outbreak areas and to determine where to focus baiting efforts.”
However, precautions are recommended.
Peter Jekel of Niagara Region Public Health says logic will usually keep you safe. “I don’t think you need to tell people to stay away from skunks,” says the public health manager — but he reminds us that we need to also avoid raccoons. “First and foremost, stay away from wild and stray animals,” he says. “Especially if they appear friendly — it may mean they’re infected.”
The first skunk was found dead on Line 9. Typically people call Town offices, animal control, or the Niagara Falls Humane Society about a dead wild animal on their property. Those animals are subsequently reported to NRPH and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and these services determine whether or not to test for rabies. “We determined this was an ideal candidate for testing,” says Jekel.
The animal was found to have rabies.
“The second instance was an interaction between a dog and a skunk,” says Jekel. “The person on the scene was able to subdue (kill) the skunk. We made an investigation and determined we wanted to test.” This animal also tested positive for the disease.
If a pet comes into contact with the saliva of a rabid animal, or if you suspect this has happened, call or see your veterinarian promptly. And make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.
“In a case of human exposure, contact your doctor, local health unit or emergency department immediately,” says Gagnon. “Once symptoms of rabies show, it is almost always fatal.”
The MNRF has a rabies information line at 1-888-574-6656. Gagnon suggests if you see a wild animal acting strangely, you should call local animal control at 905-658-8712, or the rabies line for information and advice.