Friday, June 21, 2024

Don’t touch raccoons, Toronto warns residents amid significant rise in bite cases

Toronto Public Health is advising 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 people bitten and/or scratched by raccoons.

Reported raccoon bites and scratches of people are often the result of avoidable interactions such as feeding or petting raccoons and any other physical contact, TPH says.

As of May 31, TPH has received 88 reports of people being bitten and/or scratched by raccoons. This is a 117 per cent increase in reports for 2023 compared to the previous five-year average between 2018 to 2022. In 2023, more than 80 per cent of the individuals bitten and/or scratched by raccoons received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment, a series of multiple vaccine doses as raccoons are a high-risk vector for rabies transmission.

While the risk of rabies is low in Toronto, the disease is fatal if left untreated. Residents are advised to follow these steps if bitten or scratched by a raccoon, or any other mammal, including any contamination of open wounds or mucous membranes with the mammal’s saliva:

  • 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 the risk and discuss treatment options

Residents are advised to do the following to protect their families and pets from rabies exposure:

  • Stay away and refrain from touching raccoons and all other wild animals whether they appear tame, injured or sick
  • Contact 311 to report the sighting of a raccoon that appears ill or behaving oddly
  • Do not feed wild animals such as raccoons and squirrels or keep wild animals as pets
  • Keep pets away from wild animals and do not let pets roam unsupervised
  • Vaccinate the family pet against rabies, which is required in Ontario after the pet is three months old
  • Wildlife-proof the home and yard, which includes storing garbage bins inside a garage until the morning of pick-up.
  • Connect with the appropriate agencies if in contact with wild animals or stray/domestic pets occur.

“As we start to enjoy the warmer weather in Toronto, residents will be heading outdoors to enjoy parks and beautiful natural spaces in the city. We remind everyone to avoid contact with racoons and other wild animals to minimize exposure to rabies. Treatment is very uncomfortable and avoidable. If necessary, it’s most effective if started promptly after the exposure. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective but must be administered before symptoms appear.”
– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

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