Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous systems (brain and spinal cord) of mammals. Humans and other animals can become infected primarily from a bite, or in some cases a scratch, from a rabid animal. This can happen if the rabid animal’s saliva containing the virus comes in contact with an open wound or the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes. 

Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal in animals and humans.

In 2016 a bat and a skunk submitted from Huron County tested positive for rabies. In 2018, the Huron County Health Unit investigated 218 human-animal exposures.

What to do if you get bitten or scratched by an animal

  1. Wash the wound with soap and water.
  2. Contact your family doctor immediately. The Health Unit can provide rabies vaccine to your doctor if needed.
  3. As soon as you can, call our Environmental Health Team at 1.519.482.3416 or after hours at 519.482.7077 to report the incident.

The Health Unit will:

  • Investigate all reports of animal bites and scratches
  • Provide rabies vaccine to healthcare providers for their patients when needed
  • Enforce mandatory rabies vaccination of cats and dogs over 3 months of age.

What you can do:

  • Be aware of the presence of unfamiliar, stray or wild animals in your neighbourhood, particularly where children and pets play.
  • Learn the signs of rabies in both domestic and wild animals.
  • Have your pets vaccinated according to instructions from your veterinarian.
  • Walk your pets on a leash and keep them in at night.
  • Do not feed or touch any wild, stray or unknown animals.
  • Do not leave food out
  • Avoid animals that appear sick or are acting strangely.
  • Do not try to trap wild animals
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets
  • Bat-proof your home and cottage
  • If you see an animal that you think may be rabid, contact your local Animal Control Officer. Municipalities in Huron County have by-laws to deal with animal control.

Rabies in Ontario

As a result of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ baiting and vaccinating programs, the number of wild animals testing positive for rabies has declined over the last 10 years. However, in late 2015 a raccoon submitted from the Hamilton area tested positive for the raccoon rabies strain. As of April 2019, a total of 459 animals, mainly raccoons and skunks but also including one fox, one llama and two cats, submitted from the Hamilton, Haldimand-Norfolk, Brant, Niagara, Waterloo, and Halton regions, have tested positive for the raccoon rabies strain.

In December 2016 a skunk submitted from the Blyth area in Huron County tested positive for the fox rabies strain. Because the rabies strain is different, fox rather than raccoon, this rabies case is not associated with those identified in the above noted regions. This is the first case of terrestrial animal rabies identified in Huron County since 2008. As of January 2019, there have been a total of 21 animals found testing positive for the fox rabies strain within the jurisdictions of Huron County, Perth, Waterloo, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.

Bats and rabies

The last human death from rabies in Canada was due to bat rabies. Bat exposures are defined as:

  • A bat bites or scratches a person; OR
  • Infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets in your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound

A bat’s small teeth may leave marks that are not easily seen and the bite may not be felt. You should seek medical advice if:

  • A sleeping person awakes and finds a bat in the room
  • A bat is found in the room of an unattended child/person who could not report whether he or she had direct contact with the bat

Like other wild animals, the easiest way to protect yourself from rabies is to never touch bats directly. Never use your bare hands to pick up a live/dead bat, use gloves and/or a shovel.

If you have a question please call us at 519.482.3416 or toll-free at 1.877.837.6143. Ask to speak to a public health inspector on the Environmental Health team.