Climbing reports of raccoon attacks prompt public health warning

Residents are warned to avoid contact with raccoons after Toronto Public Health reported a large increase in people being bitten or scratched by the animals this year.

TPH has received 88 such reports in the first five months of this year, a 117-percent increase over the previous five-year average, according to a city news release today.

The health service “advises 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.”

Although the risk of catching rabies from wild animals in Toronto is considered low, the disease is fatal if left untreated, TPH warned. More than 80 per cent of people bitten or scratched by raccoons this year have been given multiple anti-rabies vaccine doses.

Bites and scratches are often found to result from people feeding, petting or having other physical contact with raccoons.

“Rabies infection can have serious consequences and is completely avoidable by not contacting wild animals such as raccoons,” says Toronto-Centre councillor Chris Moise, who is chair of the board of health. “While you enjoy the many attractions in the city, be vigilant about avoiding contact with animals as it can require multiple health care visits.”

Fast action needed

Tips to protect residents from rabies include the following:

  • 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 pets against rabies (required in Ontario after three months old).
  • Store garbage bins inside a garage until the morning of pickup.

If you’re bitten or scratched by any wild animal, fast action is recommended.

“Treatment is very uncomfortable and avoidable,” Toronto’s medical health officer Dr. Eileen de Villa said. “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.”

Immediately wash the bite or wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes, apply an antiseptic to the wound, and seek medical attention to assess the risk and discuss treatment options, TPH advised.