Rabid raccoons trigger vaccine campaign in Ontario

HAMILTON -- Chris Davies was in his office at Trent University one Friday afternoon in early December when he got word that a raccoon had tested positive for rabies in Hamilton.

See Full Article

"I was really disappointed," said the province's top wildlife researcher who's been credited with keeping the virus outside of Ontario's borders for more than a decade.

"We knew if we found one, we'd find more," Davies said from Peterborough, Ont.

By Jan. 6, the number of cases would rise to 12 -- all in the Hamilton area.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry believes the rogue raccoon hitchhiked its way into the province, possibly on the back of a tractor trailer.

Ontario has long had a nearly invisible barrier draped across its southern border that is designed to keep rabid raccoons away from their healthy Canadian brethren. It consists of baits with rabies vaccines scattered at hot spots where raccoons often crossed over from the U.S., primarily in the Niagara and Thousand Island regions.

The rabies-baiting program had proven successful since September 2005, when the last case was discovered. That ended early last month, when Hamilton's Animal Services received a call about a sick raccoon in the Stoney Creek area. The animal was trapped and placed in the back of a van.

Moments later, the Animal Services worker who was transporting the sick raccoon helped locate two large dogs -- named Mr. Satan and Lexus -- that were on the loose. The animals were secured in separate cages in the back of the van.

The agency says somehow one of the dogs got loose along with the raccoon, which eventually bit and scratched both of the dogs. After securing the raccoon again, the worker released the dogs to their owners.

The raccoon was later euthanized and a piece of the animal's brain was sent to a lab, where it tested positive for rabies.

Several government agencies, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Hamilton Public Health immediately sprang to action.

The last thing we wanted, Davies said, was rabies making its way to Toronto, a city with a huge and thriving raccoon population.

Two days after the discovery, officials from various levels of local and provincial government met in Hamilton to hatch a plan of action while another small team began dropping vaccine baits by hand in the area.

One of Davies's top lieutenants, Beverly Stevenson, was tabbed to run the vaccine baiting operation. In addition to hand-dropping the baits, Stevenson laid out flight paths for a helicopter and, eventually, a plane that joined the effort. Together they would carpet bomb the area with nearly 220,000 vaccines.

The supply came from a bait bank in Guelph, Ont., where the government had stockpiled upwards of 650,000 vaccines in a freezer at a facility belonging to Artemis Technologies Inc., maker of the rabies baits used in Ontario and across the country.

The government also reached out to municipalities across the province to ask for help in surveying dead animals. A batch of 14 dead raccoons -- and other animals -- from the Hamilton area came back. Three of the raccoons tested positive for rabies.

"The three out of 14 was scary as hell," Davies said. "But we have the tools to deal with this and we know they are effective."

The primary tool is ONRAB, a rabies vaccine discovered by researchers at McMaster University. Before ONRAB, the ministry of natural resources controlled the last rabies outbreak the old-fashioned way: culling.

About 10,000 raccoons were euthanized during the last outbreak at the start of the millennium.

"We're not happy about that ...but our goal was to contain raccoon rabies," Davies said. "But it's the only tool we had."

Now they simply drop blister packs that are coated with a "sweet flavour" with the vaccine in a liquid inside. The vaccine, which works in skunks, foxes and raccoons, is absorbed through the back of the animal's throat when they munch it.

"If they found that raccoons liked cherry flavour or fish or cheese, we can put that in the bait as well," said Alex Beath, owner and president of Artemis Technologies. "It's a very flexible process."

Beath's company became involved after another company failed to convert the McMaster discovery into a useable vaccine bait, Davies said.

By late 2005, just as the province had eliminated raccoon rabies, Artemis had come up with a functional vaccine. The company has an exclusive license to market and sell the vaccine, and pays a royalty to the ministry of natural resources, Davies said.

According to the government, those royalties vary from $100,000 to $300,000 per year. Artemis expects its revenue to grow substantially after its product gets full licensing approval in the United States, where it already sells nearly two million baits annually.

"The product has done so well we are kind of overwhelmed with it," Beath said from his office in Guelph.

Both Davies and Beath say it's a shining example of government and private companies working together.

"I'm biased as all hell about this," Davies said. "We developed a vaccine that works and when it's sold outside of Ontario we make money off this."

The latest vaccination campaign has wrapped up for the season, but wildlife officials say they will continue to survey the area for dead animals, which will be tested for rabies.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Sask. RCMP charge man in abduction that sparked Amber Alert last Sunday

    Canada News CTV News
    NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. -- Saskatchewan RCMP have arrested a man following an investigation into the abduction of a girl who was in a stolen vehicle that sparked an Amber Alert last Sunday. The girl had been left in the back of her parents' running Mercedes that was taken from outside a strip mall in North Battleford. Source
  • Ontario couple reunited with child's missing ashes

    Canada News CTV News
    A homeless couple in London, Ont., has been reunited with a missing teddy bear that holds their son’s ashes. “Whoever did have him, thank you for putting him somewhere that somebody could find him and bring him back to me,” Mandy Clewlow told CTV London. Source
  • Six siblings of Arizona Republican urge voters: don't re-elect our brother

    World News CTV News
    It’s hard to get six siblings to agree on anything. But the family of Republican congressman Paul Gosar, who is running for re-election in a deeply conservative Arizona district, has offered a unified message to voters in a blistering political attack ad. Source
  • U.S. to increase pressure on Venezuela, secretary of state says

    World News CBC News
    The U.S. is preparing a "series of actions" in the coming days to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Friday. CBC IN COLOMBIALeaving Venezuela: How Colombia is shouldering a migration crisis Source
  • B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole

    Canada News CTV News
    SURREY, B.C. -- Three First Nations in British Columbia gathered Friday to raise a restored replica totem pole at a Canada-U.S. border crossing -- a decade after it was removed by the province without notice. Source
  • 'I want to lose my fear': Toronto Danforth shooting victim still haunted by what he saw

    Canada News CBC News
    For one month, Ali Demircan was left without support, reliving the moment a gunman tried to take his life along Toronto's Danforth Avenue. He claims a city program set up to assist people in the aftermath of mass casualty events failed to promptly arrange the counselling he needed to come to terms with what he saw. Source
  • Trump reverses course, delays Russia probe documents

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday delayed his own order to declassify and release documents from the FBI's Russia investigation, saying the Justice Department and U.S. allies have raised security concerns about their disclosure. Source
  • Tornado tears through Ottawa-Gatineau

    Canada News CBC News
    At least three homes were levelled in Dunrobin on Grasshopper Lane Friday afternoon as storms tore across the Ottawa-Gatineau area. The capital region has been under several weather warnings, including a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning. Source
  • 'Devastating' tornado tears through Ottawa-Gatineau

    Canada News CBC News
    A tornado tore through parts of Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., on Friday, seriously injuring four people, flattening buildings and knocking out power for almost 150,000 homes and businesses. The twister touched down in Dunrobin — a rural community in Ottawa's west end, where multiple homes were severely damaged — before heading east across the Ottawa River toward Gatineau Park, according to Environment Canada. Source
  • Airliner has 'near miss' with drone on approach to Vancouver

    Canada News CBC News
    A Jazz airliner flying into Vancouver had a "near miss" with a large drone on Tuesday, prompting renewed safety calls and an appeal for information from the RCMP. The plane, inbound from Saskatoon, was flying at 7,000 feet when its crew spotted the drone. Source