Keeping rabies out of Ontario: Ministry drops new bait along U.S. border

by Kimberlee Nancekivell

September 24th, 2009

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has begun dropping a new bait to curb rabies.

ONRAB, developed in Ontario in 2006, was dropped for the first time along the 1000 Islands corridor and Niagara Falls last week.

“We’re [dropping bait] proactively in case raccoon rabies tries to get across the St. Lawrence River,” said Rick Rosatte, a senior research scientist for the ministry.

Though raccoon rabies is no longer a problem in Ontario – it was eliminated in the province as of 2005 – the disease remains in New York State and Quebec.

The bait, which the ministry hopes to license through Artemis laboratory in Guelph, will also be dropped along ravines and in other wildlife locales in an effort to eliminate fox and skunk rabies, which are still present on a small scale in Ontario.

These bait drops have replaced previous methods such as the ministry’s trap-vaccinate-release programs, that deliver vaccinations orally when the animals eat them. The ministry’s vaccine-bait identification fact sheet describes the bait as a small packet containing what is essentially “watered down” rabies, and the vaccine, that is coated in fats, wax, icing sugar, and vegetable oil artificially flavoured to attract animals. The flavour of choice is marshmallow.

Though rabies is no longer a concern for Ontario, with fewer than 100 cases a year, compared to 2,000 cases in the 1980s, the situation is grave on a global scale. According to a fact sheet published by the World Health Organization in 2008, the incurable disease kills 55, 000 people a year. Rosatte suggested this figure could be applicable to India alone.

“Many people die of rabies in developing countries such as India and it’s just not reported,” he said. “They just die, and they don’t do post-mortems, and it’s probably rabies but they don’t determine that explicitly.”

Over the past 40 years the ministry has come to be known all over the world as the go-to authority for help in designing rabies control programs, said Rosatte, but they are not the only organization looking to eliminate rabies in the developing world.

Veterinarians without Borders has launched rabies control programs in countries such as Guatemala, Cambodia, Nepal, and Malawi that focus on  more interactive ways of solving the problem. The VWB’s approach is to “go in and…work closely with the community to figure out solutions that will be long term,” said Jessica Kennedy, the organization’s communications manager.

VWB also runs a month-long fundraiser that ends on Sept. 28, also known as World Rabies Day. They invite individual organizations to host their own World Rabies Day events, donating all proceeds to the VWB.

Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic in Toronto is hosting its annual fundraiser throughout the month of September, donating all proceeds from pet vaccinations to VWB for use toward rabies prevention in developing countries.

For more information on World Rabies Day events in your area, visit http://www.worldrabiesday.org/.

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