Niagara Region Public Health is warning rabies is on the rise in Niagara.
Last week, two skunks in an urban area of Welland, and one raccoon in rural Lincoln have tested positive for the contagious infection.
So far in 2018, NRPH said there have been 10 animals that tested positive for rabies — six raccoons and four skunks. In 2017, there were a total of 21 animals that tested positive (19 raccoons and two skunks), and in 2016 there were 12 (10 raccoons and two skunks).
Peter Jekel, manager of environmental health for NRPH, warns residents not to approach any wild animals, even if they may seem in distress, as they could be putting themselves at risk of infection.
He also recommends keeping an eye on pets, especially ones that may tend to wander, and making sure animals have proper vaccinations — typically required annually by law.
Rabid animals with rabies can demonstrate different signs, Jekel said. They tend to demonstrate a form a paralysis as the virus affects the nervous system, often having difficulty walking and start to drool or foam at the mouth, and wild animals may lose their fear of humans.
If a pet is infected, owners may notice they have a “different disposition … perhaps hiding in places when normally it is more gregarious … animals may become more aggressive and may even attack objects as well as other animals and people.”
Even still, an animal with rabies may not display symptoms, and so all animal bites or scratches, however mild, should be assessed to ensure the bite or scratch victim is not at risk.
Jekel encourages anyone who is bitten by an animal to report it to Public Health right away.
“All animal bites are followed up by the health unit to determine if rabies is an issue,” he said. “If the bite is from a domestic animal, the animal will be placed under observation, normally at a person’s home.”
He said in the case of dogs and cats the observation period is 10 days.
“If animal is healthy after the 10 days it is released. Rationale is that the animal will only transmit rabies, if it has it, in the last 10 days of its life through its saliva. If animal dies within the 10 day observation period, it will be sent away for testing for rabies. If it is a wild animal, it will be euthanized and tested.”
He said testing is done at a Canadian Food Inspection Agency rabies lab in Ottawa.
The rise of rabies in Niagara is due to an “outbreak in Hamilton,” which Jekel said could have originated in the US, noting raccoon rabies is “prevalent across the river.”
The rabid animals could have been transported across the border in the back of a truck or trailer, he said.
“People are encouraged to check their trucks and/or trailers before crossing the border to see if there is a stray animal there.”
The only way an animal or human can contact rabies is through a saliva exposure through a break in the skin from an infected animal, usually through a bite.
Everyone is at risk if bitten he said, and animals that may tend to wander are likely at a greater risk.
“Keep your pets under control and have them immunized against rabies. For people, if you are bitten or scratched by an animal, please report it to the health unit,” Jekel said.
Residents should report any animal bites and scratches (of humans) to Niagara Region Public Health at 905-688-8248, ext. 7590 or toll free 1-888-505-6074.
Niagara Region Public Health is available to take calls about animal bites 24/7.
Residents can report wild animals exhibiting abnormal behaviour to the following local animal control services:
?Welland SPCA: 905-735-1552
Lincoln County Humane Society: 905-682-0767
Niagara Falls Humane Society: 905-356-4404
Fort Erie Humane Society: 905-871-2461?