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

  • Israeli defence minister resigns over Gaza ceasefire deal

    World News CBC News
    Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has abruptly resigned his post in protest over a ceasefire reached with Gaza militants, rocking the Israeli political scene and potentially bringing about early elections. Lieberman termed the ceasefire ending two days of intense fighting "surrender to terrorism," and said he could no longer serve a government that endorsed it. Source
  • Plane crash that killed couple went unnoticed for six hours

    Canada News CTV News
    More than six hours elapsed between the time a small plane crashed while attempting to land at a southern Ontario airport, killing its two occupants, and the time the crash was noticed. People who live near the Brantford Municipal Airport say they heard a loud noise similar to a bang around 1:30 a.m. Source
  • Trump warnings about migrant caravan fall off after election

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Did someone say caravan? One week after Election Day, U.S. President Donald Trump's daily drumbeat of warnings about a caravan of "bad thugs" and potential terrorists intent on invading the U.S. from Mexico has largely fallen silent. Source
  • Theresa May begins process of convincing party, Parliament on Brexit divorce deal

    World News CBC News
    Prime Minister Theresa May will try to convince senior ministers on Wednesday to accept a draft European Union divorce deal, telling the House of Commons the agreement "takes us significantly closer to delivering what the British people voted for. Source
  • 89 homicides in 2018: Toronto ties record for most murders in a year

    Canada News CTV News
    Toronto has matched its previous record, set in 1991, for the most murders in a year after a man was shot to death in in the city’s northwest early Wednesday morning.Visit CTV Toronto for more details on this story Police were called to the area of Ann Arbour Rd. Source
  • Expensive APEC summit sows division in host Papua New Guinea

    World News CTV News
    PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea -- After three decades of promoting free trade as a panacea to poverty, the APEC grouping of nations that includes the U.S. and China is holding its lavish annual leaders' meeting in the country that can least afford it. Source
  • Boeing didn't disclose control feature eyed in Indonesia crash, U.S. pilots say

    World News CBC News
    Boeing didn't tell airline pilots about features of a new flight-control system in its 737 MAX that reportedly is a focus of the investigation into last month's deadly crash in Indonesia, according to pilots who fly the jet in the U.S. Source
  • Sask. eHealth exec got free PGA golf trip from vendor doing business with province

    Canada News CBC News
    A former Chief Information Officer with the Saskatchewan Crown corporation eHealth acknowledges that last year he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Charlotte, North Carolina where he and two other eHealth employees attended the PGA Championship. Wilbour Craddock told CBC's iTeam the flights, accommodations, meals and tickets to the August 2017 tournament were all paid for by Lexmark, a large printing firm that does business with the government of Saskatchewan. Source
  • Canada's first successful heart transplant was 50 years ago this week. Here's how it happened

    Canada News CBC News
    In mid-November 1968, a team of cardiologists at St. Michael's Hospital received a call they had been waiting on for months. An 18-year-old man had been badly injured in an accident, they learned. He was ruled brain dead, but his heart was still beating. Source
  • Man shot to death in north end is Toronto's 89th homicide this year — tying grim record set in 1991

    Canada News CBC News
    A man's shooting death overnight Wednesday in north Toronto marks the city's 89th homicide this year, a grim record that has stood unbroken for nearly three decades. Police responded to Ann Arbour Road, in the area of Albion and Weston roads, around midnight after several callers reported hearing multiple gunshots. Source