The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is about to embark on a major offensive to combat the re-emergence of rabies in the wild.
The distribution of vaccine baits in parks and ravines in urban areas is about to begin. Air-drops in rural areas of southwestern Ontario and eastern Ontario will begin in August. The 2018 program will last through October.
“The ministry is committed to the research, surveillance, control and eradication of this recent outbreak of rabies in southwestern Ontario to prevent the disease from spreading,” the ministry says in a notice to Norfolk County.
“Since the rabies outbreak in 2015 — the first of its kind in over a decade — MNRF has taken quick action to protect communities, distributing over 3 million vaccine baits by air and ground.”
Yellow Twin Otter and EC130 Eurocopters will make low-level flights over the targeted areas in August, September and October.
The aircraft will drop edible vaccine baits. These will prevent wildlife from contracting rabies. Targeted animals include raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms present themselves. The vaccination program is designed to disrupt the chain of transmission to the point where rabies disappears from the landscape.
Previous bait programs virtually eliminated rabies in Ontario. There were few documented cases from 2005 to 2015.
The latest strain of raccoon rabies migrated into Ontario from upstate New York. It has since spread into southwestern Ontario and eastern Ontario.
The first case of raccoon rabies was confirmed in Norfolk in January. Two dozen raccoons, two skunks, and a domesticated llama have tested positive in Haldimand County since 2015.
The bait packs are khaki green. The ministry asks anyone coming across the units to leave them where they are and not handle them. Bait packs found in inappropriate areas should be relocated to a woodlot or some other wild area.
The bait is made of wax and fat and is flavoured with vanilla and sugar. They are marked “Do not eat.”
Pets or livestock that consume a bait pack should be OK. If they eat more than one, a veterinarian should examine them as a precaution.
There were 86 confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in southwestern Ontario last year. Another 37 rabid skunks tested positive as well as a rabid fox.
Twenty rabid bats were confirmed in Ontario last year. Bats are a challenge because they are insect eaters and cannot be vaccinated.
Infected wildlife will display a range of symptoms. Animals can be disoriented and lethargic or agitated and aggressive. They tend to lose their fear of humans, may exhibit signs of paralysis, and are often dirty, thin and feeble.
More information is available by calling the ministry’s rabies hotline at 1-888-574-6656.