Animal bites could pose danger: health unit
By Sue Tiffin
After a noteworthy surge of animal bite investigations since the spring, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is reminding residents to enjoy wild animals from a distance, ask permission before touching an unknown pet, and ensure their own pets’ vaccinations are up to date.
In 2019 so far, the health unit has investigated almost 300 local incidents of animal bites or scratches to humans. A case of rabies being contracted locally by animal or human has not occurred according to specimens tested in 2019, but the health unit is concerned about the high number of animal bites or exposures – about two-thirds of the incidents have happened since April 1.
“During the warmer weather months, we typically see an increase in the number of incidents in which people are bitten or scratched by animals,” notes Richard Ovcharovich, manager of environment health with the HKPR District Health Unit in a press release. “But what’s concerning to us is the significant jump in cases so far this spring and summer.”
The annual number of animal bites to humans investigated locally has varied over the past years: 511 animal bites were investigated in 2018, 388 animal bites in 2017, 514 animal bites in 2016 and 488 bites in 2015.
“When I saw the numbers at 291 by July, we’re on route to a record year which is not a record I want to beat,” Ovcharovich told the Times.
Typically of the animal bites the health unit investigates, between 61 and 69 per cent are dog bites, 24 to 31 per cent are cat bites, between six and 16 per cent are bites from wildlife and the rest are from animals like cows, goats, sheep and horses.
Ovcharovich said it’s essential that people are vaccinating their pets. In 2017, of the animal bites investigated, 60 per cent of the dogs were vaccinated, while 30 per cent of the cats were vaccinated. Goats, skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats have tested positive for rabies in this area in recent years.
The health unit is reminding the public that domestic pets should be approached with caution.
“Ensure you have permission and full attention of the owner before approaching a pet,” Ovcharovich advises. “Even if you are just being kind or well-meaning by petting or touching an animal, your actions can be misinterpreted by a dog or cat, which could scratch, nip or bite you.”
According to the health unit’s press release, rabies is a serious disease caused by a virus and is fatal if left untreated. The health unit must be notified any time an animal bites or scratches a person. Public health inspectors will investigate each incident to determine if there is a risk of rabies to the person.
If a domestic animal is involved, it is quarantined – often at home - for a 10-day period to confirm that it was not sick with rabies when it bit or scratched the victim.
The health unit provides rabies vaccine for a person, if deemed necessary by a health care provider. To learn more, call the health unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5006, or visit www.hkpr.on.ca.