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MNR rabies vaccine program underway

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Ontarians aren’t the only denizens of the province undergoing a mass vaccination for serious illness.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has included Norfolk and Haldimand in the zone in southern Ontario this summer targeted for the distribution of rabies vaccine baits for wildlife.

This year’s bait-distribution program began Monday. The program includes a trap-vaccinate-release component as well as bait stations and the hand distribution of medicated packets in urban areas. The latter includes towns in both Norfolk and Haldimand.

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“The ministry’s rabies control operations are essential to public health and to the health of wildlife,” Larissa Nituch, the MNR’s rabies science operations supervisor, said in a news release. “Any warm-blooded mammal can contract rabies. If a human contracts rabies and does not receive treatment, the disease is fatal.”

MNR has been on heightened alert since a long-simmering outbreak of rabies in the raccoon population of upstate New York spilled over into Ontario in 2015. Since then, MNR has distributed more than six million vaccine baits by air and at ground level.

In a news release, MNR says the campaign is producing results. The ministry reports that rabies has decreased by about 50 percent a year in Ontario since 2016. The ministry adds that rabies cases decreased 70 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Vaccine baits will be dropped in rural areas by Twin Otter airplane and by helicopter. MNR says baits will not harm pets or humans. However, anyone finding a bait in rural or urban areas is asked to prevent their pets from consuming them.

The distribution zone for bait packs has been determined by the incidence of rabies in any given area. The MNR has designated for treatment any area within 50 kilometres of a confirmed case of rabies as of July 1, 2019. As a preventive measure, MNR will also engage in a one-day vaccine drop in August in eastern Ontario in areas adjacent to upstate New York.

“The khaki-green coloured bait being distributed by hand and by aircraft is made of wax-fat with an attractant flavour (of) vanilla-sugar,” the MNR says. “A label with a toll-free telephone number and the message `Do not eat’ is located on the exterior of the bait. A plastic package containing the liquid rabies vaccine is embedded in the centre.”

This year’s MNR bait program is scheduled to wrap up in October.

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