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

  • New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, toppling already damaged homes and a highway bridge and causing new alarm in a country reeling from two even more powerful quakes this month that together have killed nearly 400 people. Source
  • NFL responds to Donald Trump's call to fire players who take a knee during anthem

    World News Toronto Sun
    HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest. In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent. Source
  • Soul singer Charles Bradley dead at age 68

    World News CBC News
    Singer Charles Bradley, seen here performing in June in Pasadena, Calif., has died according to a tweet from his official account. Source
  • New Zealand PM wins most votes but needs help to form gov't

    World News CTV News
    AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Prime Minister Bill English's National Party won the most votes in New Zealand's general election on Saturday but not enough to form a government without help from other political parties. That means New Zealanders may need to wait for days or even weeks to confirm whether English will retain the top job as the various parties try to negotiate with each other to form a coalition. Source
  • McCain's choice: Ailing senator plays spoiler again for GOP

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- John McCain faced a choice that balanced friendship, party loyalty and his convictions. He made the decision some of his closest advisers expected. Looking at the twilight of his career and a grim cancer diagnosis, the Republican senator from Arizona who prides himself on an independent streak could not be moved to go along with a last-ditch GOP push to overhaul the nation's health care system. Source
  • New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico

    World News Toronto Sun
    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, toppling already damaged homes and a highway bridge and causing new alarm in a country reeling from two even more powerful quakes this month that together have killed nearly 400 people. Source
  • Earthquake in North Korea briefly stokes nuclear fears

    World News CBC News
    A minor but mysterious earthquake in North Korea on Saturday, close to where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, briefly set off concerns it might have been caused by an explosion, though South Korean officials tried to allay those fears. Source
  • Donald Trump tells Warriors star Stephen Curry that White House visit is off

    World News Toronto Sun
    SOMERSET, N.J. — President Donald Trump says if a basketball player doesn’t want to visit the White House to celebrate an NBA title, then don’t bother showing up. Trump responded Saturday on Twitter to Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, who has made clear he’s not interested in a traditional White House trip. Source
  • 'Get that son of a bitch off the field': Donald Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

    World News Toronto Sun
    HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest. In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent. Source
  • People flee homes and hotels as earthquake aftershocks hit Mexico

    World News CBC News
    Alarms sounded in Mexico City as a new earthquake struck Saturday morning, prompting people with fresh memories of this week's devastating tremor to flee homes and hotels. The quake was much weaker than the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that hit on Tuesday, killing at least 295 people and knocking down buildings across the capital. Source