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Rabies in Wild Animals

There are several different strains of rabies virus in Ontario. The three primary strains include Arctic fox, raccoon and bat rabies (there are several variants of bat rabies).  While the rabies strains are named after the species in which the viral strain circulates most often, it is important to know that any mammal can be infected with any of the strains (e.g. the bat rabies strain can infect raccoons, the Arctic fox strain can infect dogs, the raccoon strain can infect cats, etc.)

Arctic fox rabies

Foxes and skunks are a reservoir of this strain. The strain moved from Northern Ontario and Quebec into Southern Ontario between 1954 and 1959. The disease disappeared in Northern Ontario in 1972, but reappeared in Northeastern Ontario in 1989 with sporadic cases appearing in the North since that time. It was eliminated from southeastern Ontario via oral vaccination programs, but still persists in some areas across Southwestern Ontario because of transmission by skunks.

Raccoon rabies

Raccoons and skunks are a reservoir of this strain. The strain was first noted in Florida in the 1940s. It has been traveling northward toward Ontario since that time. The disease was first reported in Ontario in July 1999; however, the Ministry of Natural Resources has successfully controlled and contained the spread of this type of rabies in raccoons and skunks in Ontario.  The province is currently raccoon rabies free, with the last case of raccoon strain rabies being reported in 2005.

Bat rabies

Bat rabies was first diagnosed in Ontario in 1961. There are eights species of bats in Ontario, all of which have their own strain of rabies. The more common strains are the Little Brown bat, Big Brown bat, and the Silver-haired bat. Bat strains occur throughout Ontario.

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Questions and Answers

What wild animals get rabies?

Any mammal can get rabies. In Ontario, raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats are common reservoirs of the rabies virus. Your local public health unit will have information about whether these animals may be infected in your area.

What is the risk of rabies from squirrels, mice, rats, and other rodents?

Small rodents (such as squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) are rarely found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause human rabies in Canada. In these cases, your local public health unit should be consulted before a decision is made to initiate rabies vaccine.

Why should I be concerned about bats and rabies?

Most of the recent human rabies cases in Canada have been caused by a strain of rabies transmitted by bats. If you think you may have been bitten or scratched by a bat, or if you have come into direct contact with a bat (i.e. a bat touches or lands on you) and a bite or scratch cannot be ruled out, the wound or anatomic location the bat came into contact with should immediately be thoroughly washed and flushed with soap and water.  You should also contact your local public health unit or your doctor immediately

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For more information
Call the ministry INFOline at 1-866-532-3161
(Toll-free in Ontario only)
TTY 1-800-387-5559
Hours of operation : 8:30am - 5:00pm
  
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