Rabies outbreaks in Ontario

The latest outbreak of raccoon strain rabies started in 2015 when an animal was inadvertently moved to Ontario from over 500 kilometres away. This was the first time raccoon rabies had been detected in Ontario in over a decade.

Since the peak of the outbreak in 2016, raccoon rabies cases have been:

  • declining by about 50% each year
  • contained to within 65 km of the initial case in Hamilton

In 2015, fox strain rabies was confirmed in Perth, Huron and Wellington Counties. Prior to 2015, the last case of fox strain rabies was detected was in 2012. No cases of fox strain rabies were detected in 2019 and in 2020.

In 2020, nine cases of raccoon strain rabies were detected in Southwestern Ontario, in the Hamilton and Niagara areas.

Learn more about rabies in wildlife.

Annual cases of rabies in Ontario

Graph of annual number of rabies cases detected and number of animals tested in Ontario from 2015-2021. The trend shows an annual decline in cases of approximately 50% each year, despite similar numbers of animals tested.

Graph of annual number of rabies cases detected and number of animals tested in Ontario from 2015-2021. The trend shows an annual decline in cases of approximately 50% each year, despite similar numbers of animals tested.

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Find a complete listing of rabies cases including strain and affected species.

Ontario rabies surveillance map

Includes positive cases as of November 24, 2021

Image
Map of rabies surveillance, as of November 24, 2021. Purple circles represent total active raccoon strain (30), grey circles represent total expired raccoon strain (463), diamond represents total expired fox strain (21), small green circles represent negatives (2015 - present), solid grey areas represent control zone and dash lines represent enhanced surveillance zones.

Enlarge surveillance map

To request a copy of the our Rabies Control Program annual report please contact the Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section.

How we control rabies

We have been working to control and eliminate terrestrial rabies (raccoon and fox strains) in Ontario since the 1980s.

Every year throughout the summer and fall, we:

  • conduct trap-vaccinate-release of wildlife in high risk areas
  • test dead, sick, and strange acting wildlife
  • conduct research to help improve the effectiveness of rabies control operations

Find out about our 2021 rabies control operations.

Ontario’s rabies control program is a joint effort. Our partners include:

  • other provincial ministries
  • federal agencies
  • regional public health units
  • municipalities
  • wildlife custodians, licensed wildlife trappers and wildlife control agents
  • Indigenous communities

Oral rabies vaccine baits

The ONRAB oral vaccine bait was developed in Ontario. It underwent a significant safety review before it was licensed for use in wildlife in 2013.

ONRAB is effective for both fox and raccoon strain rabies control. Animals are immunized against rabies about two weeks after they chew the rabies vaccine bait.

We distribute ONRAB oral vaccine baits:

  • by hand
  • using bait stations
  • by helicopter in green spaces in urban areas, such as parks and ravines
  • from yellow airplanes in rural agricultural and forested areas

Baits are distributed:

  • in a 50 km area around all positive cases detected over the previous two years
  • along the border with New York State where the raccoon rabies strain is common

Baits are not distributed near schools, playgrounds, or in yards with toys where children are likely to be present.

Exposure to the bait is not harmful to people or pets. However, in the unlikely event that people or pets come in contact with the vaccine contained in the bait, contact a doctor or veterinarian as a precaution.

In Ontario, rabies vaccine baits can only be distributed by ministry staff. If you are in an area where rabies cases have occurred, annual baiting will occur in your area in the summer or fall.

Find out where and when rabies baiting occurs.

Distributing rabies vaccine baits from a helicopter

Distributing rabies vaccine baits from a helicopter

Staff loading rabies vaccine baits on the conveyor belt inside a twin otter aircraft

Distributing rabies vaccine baits from a twin otter aircraft

Distributing rabies vaccine baits by hand

Distributing rabies vaccine baits by hand

Refilling bait stations

Refilling bait stations

Rabies vaccine bait identification

ONRAB baits are made of a small blister pack. The pack contains the oral vaccine which is coated in a bait formula. This formula consists of:

  • vegetable based fats
  • wax
  • icing sugar
  • vegetable oil
  • artificial marshmallow flavour
  • dark-green food grade fat-soluble dye

Download Rabies vaccine bait information (PDF)

Vaccine bait appearance

Baits and wildlife

Raccoons, skunks and foxes have been known to eat more than one bait.

Before we distribute baits, we consider the home ranges of skunks, foxes and raccoons to decrease the chance that a single animal will encounter a large number of baits.

Even if an animal is already vaccinated or eats a bait more than once, it is not harmful.

Most baits are eaten by wildlife within a couple of days. Baits that are not found and eaten will dissolve and expose the vaccine. Sunlight and exposure to air inactivates the vaccine.

Baits and domestic animals

Wildlife vaccine baits are not meant for humans, livestock or pets.

The effectiveness of the oral vaccine baits has not been tested on domestic animals. However, they have been tested to ensure they are safe if they are accidentally eaten by domestic animals.

To make sure your pet is properly vaccinated, have your pets vaccinated by a registered veterinarian. The rabies vaccine that your veterinarian provides has been tested and is effective in vaccinating domestic animals against rabies.

If your livestock or pet eats one bait packet, they may get an upset stomach but there is no need to worry. If they eat more than one, call your veterinarian as a precaution.

Contact:
Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section
rabies@ontario.ca
1-888-574-6656

If you find a bait

If you find a bait packet in an area where it shouldn’t be (e.g. your yard):

  • do not open it
  • place a plastic bag over your hand to keep your scent off the bait
  • move it to an area where wildlife may find it (e.g. a forested area)

Trap-vaccinate-release of wildlife

We vaccinate raccoons, skunks, and foxes by hand with injectable vaccine in targeted areas through the trap-vaccinate-release program. This program is one of the most effective ways to vaccinate urban wildlife.

Animals are captured and vaccinated against rabies with an intramuscular injection, like the one used to vaccinate pets. We also give each animal an ear-tag with a unique identification number to identify it as vaccinated if the animal is re-captured.

After they are vaccinated, we release the animals back to the area where we captured them. These animals will then defend their home territory against other potentially unvaccinated animals, which helps prevent the spread of rabies.

Vaccination areas

With cooperation from the public, municipalities and various organizations, we get permission to set live traps on private and public land.

The program targets strategic areas where rabies cases are ongoing. Our goal is to create a buffer of vaccinated animals in urban areas to prevent the spread of rabies and help keep wildlife, people and pets safe.

Find out where and when we vaccinate urban wildlife.

Image of technicians preparing to vaccinate a raccoon.

Surveillance testing

We work with partners to conduct surveillance for terrestrial rabies across Ontario by testing:

  • rabies vector species such as raccoons, skunks and foxes and sometimes other mammals
  • dead wildlife. These wildlife are either found dead, are roadkill or showed signs of disease or strange behaviour consistent with rabies

We test the brain tissue of these animals using direct immunohistochemical test (dRIT). All dRIT positive samples are sent to the for confirmation through fluorescent antibody test (FAT).

We do not test:

  • cases of human or domestic animal contact with wildlife

Visit the reporting section to find out who to call if you think you or a domestic animal have come in contact with rabies.

Surveillance testing helps us:

  • detect cases of rabies
  • direct rabies control efforts to where cases are occurring
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the rabies control program

A picture of a rabies technician testing samples.

2021 Rabies control operations

Map of planned 2021 rabies control operations

map of Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proposed rabies control operations 2021.

Enlarge map

2021 Summer and fall baiting schedule

By Where When
Hand baiting Southern Ontario: Urban areas within the raccoon rabies control zone July to mid-September
Helicopter baiting Southern Ontario: Green spaces within urban areas in the raccoon rabies control zone Mid-August to mid-September
Twin Otter aircraft Eastern Ontario: St. Lawrence in Frontenac, Leeds & Grenville and Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry counties Mid-late August
Twin Otter aircraft Southern Ontario: Toronto, Peel, Halton, Wellington, Waterloo, Perth, Oxford, Haldimand, Norfolk, Niagara, Brant and Hamilton counties Mid-August to mid-September
Helicopter baiting Southern Ontario: Niagara Peninsula Mid-August to mid-September

For more information on this program, call the Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656.

Updated: November 26, 2021
Published: October 14, 2021