Rabies is an almost invariably fatal disease. Onset in humans is often heralded by a sense of apprehension, headache, fever, malaise, and indefinite sensory changes. The disease progresses to paralysis, spasm of swallowing muscles, delirium, and convulsions. Death is most often due to respiratory paralysis, and usually occurs within two to six days from the onset of symptoms.
The infectious agent of the disease is a virus which usually infects a person through the virus-laden saliva of an animal through a bite or scratch wound. Rabies is a disease primarily of animals, however, tens of thousands of humans die of rabies each year.
Rabies-infected insectivorous bats are found in Canada. For bat-related rabies, post-exposure treatment is recommended only when a bite or scratch has occurred or when there is direct contact with a bat (the bat should be observed to touch or land on the person’s exposed skin) and a bite, scratch, or saliva exposure into a wound or mucous membrane cannot be ruled out.
In the event of such an exposure and the bat is captured, unless the exposure from the bat is to the head or neck region, treatment can be delayed for up to 48 hours until the rabies lab test result on the bat is obtained.
Raccoon rabies, like all strains of rabies, is a viral disease carried in an animal's saliva. Raccoon rabies kills raccoons, other animals, and humans in the same way as other strains of rabies do.
It is recommended that you keep raccoons away by not providing food or shelter for them. This includes covering any potential entrances to your home, covering composters and garbage bins, and trimming overhanging tree branches.
Vaccination of Pets
The greatest risk to humans of acquiring rabies is through contact with domestic animals and wild animals which may have contracted rabies through contact with rabid wildlife. Keeping your pet(s) vaccinated is the best means of creating a protective barrier between wildlife and humans.
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health has adopted the Rabies Immunization Regulation under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. This regulation requires that dogs and cats over three months of age be immunized against rabies and re-immunized in accordance with the certificate of immunization issued with respect to the animal.
The Regulation stipulates that immunization should be carried out by a veterinarian registered under the Veterinarians Act and that the vaccine is licensed for use in Canada. Although pet vaccination protects pets against rabies, the intent of the Rabies Immunization Regulation is the protection of human health.
Visit our Rabies Clinic page to learn about low-cost rabies vaccination clinics.
Human Post-Exposure Vaccination
Post-exposure vaccine is provided by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care free of charge to anyone who is involved with a rabid or suspected rabid animal, and is available from Hastings Prince Edward Public Health when requested by a doctor. The vaccine is administered at the doctor's office or at the hospital.
Post-exposure treatment is not recommended following exposure to rodents (mice, squirrels, gerbils, moles, etc.) or lagomorphs (rabbits, hares) unless the animal's behaviour was very abnormal. Bites from larger rodents (e.g., groundhogs, woodchucks, beavers) require a risk assessment.
Human Pre-Exposure Vaccination
Pre-exposure vaccine is available through a family doctor to trappers, veterinarians, animal control officers, and anyone who works with wildlife or livestock. Pre-exposure vaccine is paid for by the person receiving the vaccine and can be ordered by the doctor's office directly from the company producing the vaccine.
For further information, call 613-966-5500 or 1-800-267-2803, ext. 677.