Environmental Health

Rabies Prevention and Control

Rabies is a viral infection which affects the nervous system of warm-blooded animals (mammals), including humans. The virus, which is found in the saliva of infected mammals, can be transmitted through:

  • bites that break the skin
  • saliva entering an open wound
  • saliva entering the mouth, nose or eyes

Although rabies can be transmitted by either domestic or wild mammals, in North America, it is most often transmitted by bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons. Treatment to prevent rabies is most effective if started promptly after the exposure.

Toronto Public Health works with health professionals to reduce the risk of rabies in humans by investigating exposures to animals. Toronto Public Health also works with Toronto Animal Services, neighbouring health units and various provincial agencies, to reduce the risk of rabies in Toronto.

Picture of a raccoon

Recognizing Rabies in Animals

Signs and symptoms of rabies in animals can include:

  • Dumb rabies: lethargy (inactive or under-active), self-isolation, paralysis in the hind limbs that spreads to the rest of the body, excessive drooling (frothing), drooping head, sagging jaw
  • Furious rabies: extreme excitement, aggression, gnawing at its own limbs or body, attacking objects or other animals for no obvious reason

Rabies in Ontario

The number of wildlife rabies cases in Ontario has decreased by more than 99% since provincial and local rabies control programs began.

  • Ontario was declared to be free of raccoon rabies strain in 2005. However, in 2015/16, several raccoons and skunks in Hamilton, Haldimand County, and Niagara were confirmed to been infected with rabies.
  • The last rabid skunk reported in Ontario was in 2016 near Stratford.
  • The last rabid fox reported in the province was in 2009.
  • The last rabid terrestrial (land-based) mammal reported from Toronto was in 1997.
  • Rabid bats are still found in Ontario, including the Greater Toronto Area.

For more information about rabies in animals in Ontario, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/rabies

Rabies Around the World

The risk of rabies varies globally. In countries where rabies deaths occur in humans (especially Asia and Africa), more than 95% of cases are caused by bites from dogs.

Your risk of being exposed to rabies while travelling to another country depends on several factors such as: your destination, the length of your trip, where you stay, your activities, and your access to medical care. Treatment to prevent rabies is available worldwide, but it is often difficult to obtain.

If you are planning to travel:

  • Refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada's Travel Health website to determine whether rabies is a concern for your destination (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/index-eng.php).
  • Contact a travel medicine clinic for discuss whether you need rabies vaccination before you go.

 

For more information about rabies around the world, visit http://www.who.int/rabies/en/

Two veterinarians treating a dog

Protecting People and Pets from Rabies

To protect people and pets from rabies:

  • Vaccinate your pet dogs and cats against rabies. This is required under Ontario law (Health Protection and Promotion Act, Regulation 567). The Toronto Animal Services' Chip Truck is a mobile license and microchip clinic that also offers low cost rabies vaccination.
  • Always supervise your pet dogs. They should not run loose in public spaces, unless in off-leash parks.
  • Stay away from all wild animals, whether they appear tame, injured or sick.
  • Do not feed wild animals or keep wild animals as pets.
  • Wildlife-proof the home and yard. Store garbage bins inside a garage / basement until the morning of pick-up.
  • Contact appropriate agencies if you come into contact with wild animals or stray / domestic pets.
  • For more information on wildlife in Toronto, visit Toronto Animal Services – Wildlife in the City

 

If Bitten or Scratched by an Animal

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, follow these steps:

  • Immediately wash the bite or wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Apply an antiseptic to the wound.
  • Seek medical attention from a physician to assess your risk and discuss treatment options.

Treatment to prevent rabies is most effective if started promptly after the exposure. The need for post-exposure prophylaxis will depend on:

  • The type of animal involved
  • Where the exposure occurred (e.g. location in Toronto or while travelling to another country)
  • The reason for exposure (e.g. if it was provoked, such as feeding a wild animal, or an unprovoked attack)
  • Whether the animal is a domestic pet whose health and rabies vaccination status can be determined

For more information on rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, see the Rabies Vaccine and Immune Globulin Fact Sheet.

If a bite or scratch occurs, Toronto Public Health assists with investigations by:

  • Confining domestic animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) for a 10-day period to observe if they develop rabies, or
  • Arranging for wild animals to be euthanized for rabies testing

Contact Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 for further information.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis

Rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis consists of a series of vaccinations that can help protect people before they may be exposed to rabies from the bite or scratch from an animal.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis is recommended for people at high risk of close contact with rabid animals or the rabies virus, including:

  • People who work closely with animals, such as veterinarians and veterinary staff, animal control and wildlife workers
  • Laboratory workers handling the rabies virus
  • Hunters and trappers in areas with confirmed rabies
  • People who explore caves (spelunkers)
  • Certain travellers to countries or areas at risk. Contact a travel medicine clinic for consultation.