What is urban wildlife?
This term refers to animals that live in cities and towns, and are not pets or farm animals. Common examples of urban wildlife in Toronto include rodents, pigeons, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, bats and opossums.
Does urban wildlife carry diseases?
Like any animal including pets, urban wildlife can carry diseases. Rarely do these diseases affect people. Usually close contact with the infected animal (such as a bite or living with the animal) or contact with their feces or urine is required for disease to be passed from wildlife to a person.
Which diseases in urban wildlife can be spread to people in Toronto?
There are very few documented cases of diseases spreading from wild animals to people in Toronto. The three most important conditions are discussed below.
Rabies is a viral infection of the brain and nervous system which is spread by the bite of an infected animal. Rabies has been eliminated from Toronto in all animals but bats. Treatment with vaccine after a bite from an infected animal is very effective in preventing illness from rabies. Even though bats found in Toronto test positive for rabies every year, the last person to get rabies in Toronto was in 1931.
Raccoon roundworm is an intestinal parasite found in raccoon feces that can cause a severe infection of the brain in people. This very rare disease affected one child in Toronto in 2005, and was the first known case of the disease in Canada. No other cases have been reported in Toronto.
Illnesses affecting the digestive system are common and have many different causes. Symptoms of this group of illnesses may consist of any combination of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea. Organisms found in wild animals (Salmonella, E. coli, Giardia, etc) are known to cause these kind of illnesses and are passed to people through animal feces usually through contaminated food or water. Hand washing, water treatment and proper food preparation are important ways to prevent getting sick from these organisms.
I have heard about distemper and mange. Can I get these illnesses?
These are common diseases in wild animals but are not a human health concern. Distemper has not been shown to cause illness in humans. Mange is caused by a tiny parasite similar to a tick called a mite. It can cause an itchy skin reaction in people usually after close contact with an infested pet. The rash goes away after contact with the infested animal is stopped since animal mites cannot survive long on people.
How do I prevent my family and myself from getting an illness from urban wildlife?
Our usual behaviours have made diseases from urban wildlife in people rare. Below are some important tips to take and remember:
- Let wild animals be wild - do not try to touch them, feed them or keep them as pets
- If you have a pet, vaccinate it against rabies
- Cover sandboxes so animals cannot use them as a bathroom
- Wash your hands thoroughly after coming in contact with a wild animal, pet or animal feces, and always before preparing or eating food