Rabies and West Nile Virus in Ontario

With rabies reports in raccoons and West Nile Virus discovered in dead crows, it’s prudent to be aware of diseases affecting wild creatures that potentially can harm us.


Rabies recently has been reported in Ottawa, occurring in wild raccoons and also in bats a species that is one of the most common carriers of this fatal disease. Foxes are also common carriers.

Inoculation is the best prevention against rabies.

Quyon veterinarian Dr. Sylvie Choquette spoke to me about rabies this morning. “So far we haven’t heard anything [about rabies] this year, here in our region. As a rule, if there were an outbreak, we would get a paper informing us about it. In 1990-92 we got a paper every month, for example, and we knew about every cat, dog, fox or cow that was infected.

“This year I’ve heard nothing except what you would also hear in the media. I did hear that they were using bait… but I think that was in the Eastern Townships, where it’s more common.”

And how do we protect our animals, I asked Dr. Choquette.

“Well, the first time you inoculate an animal, say your dog, with rabies vaccine, you do it twice. Let’s say you do it today, then a year from now, you’d do it again at the same time. Then the vaccine is good for three years. Same with cats or any animal: the first time you do it twice in a row, then the animal is okay for three years.”

“What’s also very important is to be aware that heartworm is a disease prevalent in dogs here in the Pontiac. It’s very important to protect your pets from this,” says the vet.

No news is good news when it comes to infectious diseases in the Pontiac.

West Nile Virus

I asked Dr. Choquette about this virus, too. “Again, no, it’s not come to the Pontiac or West Quebec to my knowledge.”

But reports of dead crows with the virus are close to home. Here are the reports as documented on Health Canada’s website found at www.hc-sc.gc.ca: “West Nile virus confirmed in bird found in Ottawa, August 8, 2002; West Nile virus found in Russell County, August 7, 2002; Dead crow found in the town of Mississippi Mills is presumed positive for West Nile virus, August 7, 2002.”

What is this virus? The website explains: “West Nile (WN) virus is a member of the family Flaviviridae (genus Flavivirus). It is closely related to several mosquito-transmitted flaviviruses that cause human disease on different continents including St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) virus, a native North American arbovirus. Both WN virus and SLE viruses are maintained in a transmission cycle involving bird and mosquito species. WN virus was first detected in the United States (U.S.) in September 1999 during the investigation of an outbreak of encephalitis in humans in New York City.”

Originally discovered in 1937 in the West Nile region of Uganda, the disease has spread. “Recent outbreaks, outside of North America, have occurred in France and Israel in 2000, Russia in 1999, and Romania in 1996-97,” claims the website.

West Nile Virus is spread to humans when an infected mosquito bites them. So far, it cannot be spread from one person to another, through personal contact: it’s solely by the mosquito population.

The virus was first discovered in North America in 1999. “There were 62 confirmed cases, mostly in elderly people. Seven deaths resulted, including one Canadian who had visited the area during the outbreak. Blood samples taken in the area suggest that many more people were infected but they only experienced mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.”

Although it’s good to hear that not everyone who is infected with the virus develops symptoms (or that it’s fatal) it is prudent to be aware that it’s a disease that we need to be aware of. Particularly because there is so far no known vaccine, it’s important, also, to know what the symptoms can be. The website explains, “Symptoms can begin three to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people who become infected have no symptoms at all, or experience only mild flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body aches. Some may also develop a mild rash, or swollen lymph glands.”

Interestingly, this website claims that West Nile (WN) Virus can affect horses, and it reports that a horse vaccine is available. “A WN virus vaccine for horses has been given a provisional licence and is now available in Canada. The vaccine is only available from licenced veterinarians. For further information, contact your veterinarian. Vaccine status must be taken into account before blood samples are tested for WN virus.”

However, although cats and dogs might be susceptible to WN, there is no vaccine on the market as of yet.

Prevention of WN

The Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre wants to hear about any unusual deaths of crows, ravens or jays. Note that it’s not wise to pick up dead birds, so report the finding, then learn how to deal with it. Here is the contact information for Quebec, which I found at the Centre’s website (http://wildlife.usask.ca/english/frameWestNile.htm)

“The Government of Quebec and the Department of Public Health would like the cooperation of the public in reporting dead birds. If you would like to report a freshly dead bird please call “SOS Poaching” at 1-800-463-2191, (24 hours per day, 7 days per week).


There is absolutely no reason to panic. But, there is good reason to be watchful with both of these infectious diseases.

And as veterinarian Dr. Choquette advises, please do protect your pets. Calling her confirmed that my two cats are fine: they’re not due their rabies shots until next year. Do you need personal reassurance about your pets? Contact Dr. Choquette at 458-2974; else call your own vet for clarification of your animal’s needs. And, don’t forget heartworm or feline leukemia, either. It’s your responsibility (if not your delight) to look after your pets so they can live full, healthy and active lives.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from Quyon. This is your environment forum and your comments are always welcome.