City of Toronto advises residents to avoid contact with raccoons to protect against injury and rabies

The City of Toronto advises residents to avoid physical contact with raccoons, and all other wild animals, due to a significant increase in the number of sick and injured raccoons and in the number of reported cases of raccoon bites and scratches. Physical contact includes feeding or petting raccoons and other wild animals, and other interactions which may be otherwise avoidable. Residents who may have had physical contact with a raccoon or another wild animal should see a healthcare provider immediately to be assessed.

In 2020, Toronto Animal Services received 13,712 service requests for sick and injured raccoons, compared to 4,172 received in 2019. This may be because residents are home more than usual or spending more time exercising outside in their neighbourhoods, thus encountering more raccoons in the city. Between January 2020 and February 2021, Toronto Public Health saw a 62 per cent increase in reports of people bitten and/or scratched by raccoons, compared to the two-year average between 2018 and 2019.

While the risk of rabies is low in Toronto, the disease is fatal if left untreated. Residents are urged to avoid contact with wild animals and to take steps to protect themselves and their pets from exposure. Residents should remember the following:

• Do not feed wild animals, such as raccoons and squirrels, or keep wild animals as pets.
• Stay away from all wild animals, including raccoons, whether they appear tame, injured or sick.
• Ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date.
• Always supervise dogs and keep all pets away from wild animals. Dogs should not run loose in public spaces, except in off-leash parks.
• Do not feed pets outside. Pet food left outside will attract raccoons and wild animals.
• Properly dispose of waste on your property in waste bins. Raccoons will eat compost and garbage left on the ground.
• Wildlife-proof homes and yards.
• Always take your green bin and garbage containers to the curb on the morning of pick-up and not the night before.
• Every animal is capable of unpredictable behaviour.

If bitten, scratched, or exposed to a raccoon or other wild animal, residents should 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 healthcare provider to assess your risk and discuss treatment options.

Treatment to prevent rabies, if necessary, is most effective if started promptly after the exposure. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective but must be administered before symptoms appear. The need for rabies treatment is assessed by healthcare providers and will depend on a number of factors such as the type of animal involved and the reason for exposure.

The most recent case of wildlife with rabies in Toronto was in 1997. No raccoons have since tested positive for rabies in Toronto, largely due to interventions to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies. While the risk of rabies remains low in Toronto, it should be noted that raccoons are considered to be a higher risk species for rabies transmission in Canada.

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. If it is left untreated before symptoms appear, rabies will lead to death. The rabies virus, which is found in the saliva of infected animals, can be transmitted through: animal bites that break the skin, saliva entering an open wound, or saliva entering the mouth, nose or eyes.

SOURCE  City of Toronto

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