Rabies in Bats, Raccoons and other wildlife

Last Updated: May 2016

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Rabies in batsRecently the Toronto Public Health Services received confirmation of this year’s first positive rabid bat in Hamilton. I am writing this blog regarding rabies in bats, raccoons and other wildlife so you will know what prevention steps to take, learn about the symptoms, steps to take if you are bitten and not to panic!

In Canada, common carriers of rabies are bats, raccoon, skunk and foxes. Recently the most human-rabies cases have been contracted by rabies in bats. Please take precautions around wild animals and use heavy duty gloves if handling them is absolutely necessary. If you require raccoon removal or bat removal it is best to call a professional.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a fatal disease that can affect all mammals including human beings. It is caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system causing inflammation of the brain. The virus lives in the saliva of the rabid animal and is contracted by a bite, through an open cut or wound, or if the virus gets near your mouth nose or eyes.

There are several strains presently in Ontario, there are skunk and fox strains, raccoon strains and bats have several strains. The bat strain is known to be the most dangerous to humans, however all rabies are extremely dangerous if not treated immediately. If you get bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, seek treatment immediately from a local physician or hospital.

There are several strains in Ontario, to control this the Ministry of Natural Resource (MNR) distributes baits for wildlife to eat each year. The bait contains a rabies vaccine that is absorbed through the lining of the mouth. This is an oral rabies vaccination. This one vaccine protects against all strains in North America. Within two weeks the animals will be immune to the virus. Unfortunately this method does not apply to bats. Be sure to take the proper precautions when around bats.

The time between exposure to the disease and the onset of symptoms, varies from a few days to several months.

Rabies Symptoms

An animal that has contracted rabies will have flu-like symptoms, severe headache, and fever. Confusion and hallucination begins as the disease sets in. Many times the animals jaw will drop causing them to drool and foam at the mouth.

In humans early symptoms is numbness or itchiness around the bite area, flu like symptoms and headache progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. It is important to be treated immediately as once symptoms appear death is usually imminent.

Ontario Rabies Hotline number is 1-888-574-6656

Rabies in Raccoons

Raccoons can pick up various strains of rabies, but they are most susceptible to the raccoon strain. Raccoons are generally a nocturnal animal, so if you spot a raccoon exhibiting abnormal behaviour especially in the day, be alert and keep your distance.  As a precaution, all bites or scratches by raccoons should be considered a possible exposure to the rabies virus. Raccoons may incubate rabies for long periods (months) without becoming ill. They may shed the virus in saliva two weeks prior to showing symptoms. Raccoons are attracted to pet food in your back yard, overfilled bird feeders, leftovers from backyard barbecues and especially garbage bins. Don’t attract raccoons to your property, consider feeding pets indoors, not over filling bird feeders, cleaning up well after BBQ’s and keeping bins securely closed.

Rabies in Bats

Rabid bats accounted for 27 of the 28 rabies cases in 2013. As bats in Canada are insectivores, no efficient way of vaccinating them has yet been found. Globally, bats are considered ‘reservoirs’ (long-term hosts) of a number of viruses, many of which are not harmful and cannot be passed to humans. Bats are not normally aggressive and will avoid contact with humans. This means that there is no risk if you do not handle bats, but if you do, take the safety precautions necessary to minimize your risk.

The rabies virus is transmitted via  bite or scratch from an infected animal, or from its saliva coming into contact with your mucous membranes (your eyes, mouth or nose). If you do need to handle bats always wear thick gloves to avoid getting bitten. Not all bats have rabies, but due to the severity of the virus, it is important to take precautions.

It is illegal to kill a bat, they are protected animals

What should you do if your bitten

Wash the bite immediately with soap and warm water. Seek medical attention immediately with your nearest doctor or hospital. Local or state health officials should be consulted to help determine if rabies treatment is needed. As rabies are deadly you or your physician have to contact the local health unit.

How to protect your pets from being infected

Ontario law requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies and their shots kept up-to-date.  To further protect your pets, keep them indoors at night to limit their exposure, the time when foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons are most active.

If you encounter a rabid animal keep your distance and call the Rabies Hotline at 1-888-574-6656.

Rabies Prevention Tips

The easiest way to decrease your risk of exposure is ensuring that contact with infected wildlife if minimized. Here are some tips on preventing wildlife on your property.

  • Do not approach or handle wildlife
  • Vaccinate all pets
  • Do not feed wild animals
  • Do not give wildlife accessto your garbage by securing bins
  • Place trash out for pickup on the same day it will be picked up
  • Seal openings in attics, basements, porches, sheds and barns
  • Cap chimneys with screens

If you have more questions, visit Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources downloadable “Common questions and answers for rabies”  PDF.

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Rabies in Bats, Raccoons and other wildlife
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Rabies in Bats, Raccoons and other wildlife
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Rabies in bats and rabies in raccoons and other wildlife should be treated with extreme caution. You should contact your local health unit.
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