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Wildlife, dogs and rabies: Grey-Bruce Public Health alert

This is an undated photo of a silver-haired bat, the species most often associated with human rabies. (AP Photo/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International). This is an undated photo of a silver-haired bat, the species most often associated with human rabies. (AP Photo/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International).
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Summertime isn't only about close encounters with wildlife.

The Grey Bruce Public Health says to enjoy wildlife from a distance and exercise caution with unfamiliar dogs.

Animal bites and scratches can cause painful and potentially serious injuries and infection, require medical treatment or a trip to an emergency department, and transmit a disease, such as rabies, from an infected animal to a person.

It's the time of year when the public health units experience a notable rise in dog bite incidents, prompting mandated rabies exposure investigations.

"In most cases, dog bite incidents can be avoided," said senior public health manager Andrew Barton with Grey-Bruce Public Heath (GBPH).

"We encourage people to take steps to prevent dog bites when walking in communities or on trails or enjoying other outdoor activities in Grey-Bruce," said Barton.

GBPH conducted 592 rabies exposure investigations in 2023. About two-thirds of the investigations followed a dog bite. Just over 130 of the incidents were linked to a cat bite or scratch, while 21 of the incidents involved a human-wildlife interaction.

To prevent dog bites, the public health unit advises:

  • Always ask a dog's owner if it is OK to approach their pet, even on a leash.
  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not touch a dog eating, sleeping, or chewing a toy.
  • Be mindful that sick or injured pets may bite out of fear or confusion.
  • Steer clear of dogs that are loose or unattended or growling or barking.
  • Stay quiet and still if an unknown dog approaches you.
  • Recognize dog body language that could indicate a dog may become aggressive.

If bitten by a dog, try to get the owner's name and contact information. Confirming the dog's vaccination status can allow the person to avoid post-exposure rabies treatment.

There were 568 rabies exposure investigations in 2022, 514 in 2021, and 520 in 2020 in Canada.

Rabies is a rare but potentially serious virus in Canada. It is usually transmitted to humans through direct contact with saliva from an infected animal, such as through a bite or, less commonly, a scratch.

Rabies is almost always fatal in people and animals once symptoms appear. Bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons are the most common animals to have rabies in Canada.

"Wild animals, such as raccoons and baby skunks, may look cute and harmless, but people should resist the urge to approach, feed, handle, or care for them as doing so could pose health and injury risks," said Barton.

In the spring and summer, Grey Bruce Public Health typically sees increased reports of people being bitten or scratched by wild animals, particularly raccoons.

Human cases of rabies are very rare in Ontario, with the province's last domestic case of human rabies occurring in 1967

There were 56 confirmed wildlife rabies cases in Ontario in 2023, with the vast majority involving bats. In Grey-Bruce, a bat tested positive for rabies in 2023, while the most recent case of rabies in a non-flying animal was in 2009.

Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating susceptible animals and preventing human exposure to potentially infected animals. Immediate medical care after an exposure to a potentially rabid animal can also prevent rabies.

Public Health advises residents and visitors:

  • Stay away from wild animals and always refrain from touching, petting, or handling wildlife or keeping wild animals as pets.
  • Avoid feeding wild animals.
  • Keep pets away from wild animals, and do not let pets roam unsupervised.
  • Wildlife-proof homes and yards.
  • Do not disturb baby animals.
  • Warn children to stay away from wild or stray animals.
  • Do not trap and transport wild animals to a new location.

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