Map of Simcoe Muskoka

Environment

Rabies

Human Rabies Disease
Animals Involved in Potential Rabies Exposure Incidents
Animal Rabies Vaccination
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
Animal Observation and Confinement
Rabies Surveillance in Animals

Rabies is a fatal disease caused by the rabies virus which infects humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted when viruses in the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with blood or mucous membranes of other animals, this is usually through a bite or sometimes a scratch.

There are several distinct strains of the rabies virus in North America, and they are identified based on the species they are most frequently found in. In Ontario, fox, raccoon and bat rabies are the most common.

When a person is suspected to have been exposed to rabies (e.g. through an animal bite), they should contact their local health unit. The health unit investigates every potential rabies exposure incident report received.

To find out more information, see the health unit’s website on Rabies.

Human Rabies Disease

Rabies is a fatal disease in humans, but fortunately, due to strong rabies prevention and control activities, human cases are rare in Canada. The last human case of rabies in Ontario (and Canada) was in 2012. This case was associated with animal contact that happened outside of Canada. The last locally acquired case in Ontario was in 1967, over 50 years ago.

Animals Involved in Potential Rabies Exposure Incidents

In 2017, approximately two-thirds (66%) of all animal bites or scratches investigated by the health unit involved dogs. Other animals involved in potential rabies exposure investigations included bats, raccoons, squirrels and other wild and domestic animals. In 2017, 64% of dogs involved in potential rabies exposure investigations were vaccinated for rabies, an increase from 54% in 2014. Overall, 38% of potential rabies exposure investigations involved cats and dogs that were unvaccinated or for which rabies vaccination status was unknown.

RabExposurebyVaccStatus2017_20181114

Animal Rabies Vaccination

By law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies, even pets that are indoor only. Livestock (e.g. cows, sheep) that are exposed to the public such as those at petting zoos and pony rides must also be vaccinated. The health unit collects information about vaccination status of animals involved in potential rabies exposure investigations, but it is unknown what proportion of all pets are vaccinated against rabies.

The health unit supports publically available low cost rabies vaccination clinics that are offered by local participating veterinarians.  In 2017, 20 veterinarians provided 30 clinics across Simcoe and Muskoka. Over 4,000 animals, mostly dogs (76%), were vaccinated through these programs. For more information about low-cost rabies clinics please refer to our website.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis

When a person reports an animal bite or scratch to the health unit, the health unit may suggest they contact a healthcare provider to discuss rabies post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP.

Rabies PEP is an injection that is given after suspected exposures to the rabies virus to prevent the development of the rabies disease.

For more information about what to do about an animal bite, refer to our website on Animal Bite Reporting.

The number of potential rabies exposures where individuals were advised to seek medical advice for rabies PEP administration increased from 174 in 2015 to 250 in 2017. The number of incidents where PEP was actually administered increased as well.  Just under half of at-risk individuals received PEP.

RabOutcomes2015to2017_20181114

Over one-quarter (27%) of PEP administrations in 2017 were associated with incidents involving raccoons, a sharp increase from 8% in 2014. Just under half (45%) of incidents that led to PEP administration involved contact with domestic pets (i.e. cats or dogs).

RabPEPbyAnimal2017_20181114

Animal Observation and Confinement

When an animal is involved in a potential rabies exposure incident, the health unit requires that the animal be confined for a period of 10 days (14 days for livestock). This confinement period is used to ensure the animal does not develop or show signs of rabies disease, and to determine the risk of the animal having transmitted the rabies virus during the biting incident. For more information, refer to our website on Animal Bite Reporting.

Overall, 71% of potential rabies exposures in 2017 had a completed confinement period, the remaining 29% includes incidents where the animal was not a domestic pet (e.g. a racooon) or the owner of the pet did not comply with the order to confine their animal. Confinement was completed for the majority of incidents involving domestic pets, with 78% of incidents involving cats and dogs completing confinement.

This is an increase from 63% of potential rabies exposures (69% in domestic pets) in 2016 where confinement was completed.

Rabies Surveillance in Animals

When an animal that has been involved in a biting incident is suspected to be infected with and is potentially at risk of transmitting the rabies virus, the health unit may arrange for the animal to be tested for rabies through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency laboratory. Animal testing may also be arranged by veterinarians with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in cases where the animal has not bitten or potentially exposed a human to rabies, and wildlife rabies surveillance may be conducted by wildlife organizations such as the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. Regardless of which agency submits an animal for testing, all animals with positive rabies test results are to be reported to the health unit. This information is used for surveillance purposes and to understand risks to human health.

The number of animals submitted for testing decreased slightly from 72 in 2015 to 55 in 2017. In Simcoe and Muskoka, the number of domestic pets (including feral cats and dogs) submitted for testing has decreased, while the number of raccoons submitted for testing has increased since 2015. Increased testing of raccoons may be related to the ongoing outbreak of raccoon rabies in southern Ontario.

Of all the animals submitted for testing in Simcoe Muskoka, only bats have tested positive for rabies – one each year from 2015 to 2017.

RabAnimalTesting2015to2017_20181114

For more information, see the health unit’s fact sheet on rabies.