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Middlesex-London Health Unit

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Rabies Exposures, Investigations and Contacts

A person may become exposed to the rabies virus if they come in contact with a rabid animal. Learn what to do, how the Middlesex-London Health Unit investigates and who to contact for animal bite/scratch incidents.

Table of Contents

What is a rabies exposure? What do I do if my animal is under the ten day confinement?
What to do if you have experienced a rabies exposure Contacts for situations in which no human exposure has occurred
What happens when I report an animal bite/scratch incident?  

What is a rabies exposure?

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health,1 rabies exposures can occur in the following ways:

  • Bite exposures:
    occur when there is penetration of the skin by teeth.
  • Non-bite exposures:
    occur when there is a scratch, abrasion or cut of the skin or mucus membrane that comes in contact with saliva or other potentially infectious material from a rabid animal.
  • Bat exposures:
    occur when there has been direct contact with a bat AND a bite, scratch or saliva exposure into a wound or mucous membrane cannot be ruled out.

Please note: Petting an animal or handling its blood, urine or feces are not considered to be exposures.

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What to do if you have experienced a rabies exposure

Follow these steps if you have been bitten or scratched by an animal:

  1. If it is safe to do so, confine the animal.
  2. Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water.
  3. Seek medical attention (see a doctor) as soon as possible.
  4. Call and report the animal bite/scratch incident to the Middlesex-London Health Unit or your local health unit.
  5. If the incident took place in the City of London and involved a dog, call and report the incident to the London Animal Care Centre.

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Report an Animal Bite or Animal Contact Incident

Middlesex-London Health Unit

  • Tel: 519-663-5317
  • Fax: 519-663-0107

London Animal Care Centre

  • 519-685-1330
    (dogs only)
 

What happens when I report an animal bite/scratch incident?

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) on the Environmental Health team at the Middlesex-London Health Unit routinely receive reports of animal bite/scratch incidents. They investigate each report to determine the person’s risk of exposure to rabies and need for rabies exposure treatment (rabies vaccine). Depending on the nature of the biting/scratching animal, different steps are taken in the rabies investigation.

Bite/Scratch from a Domestic Animal

If a person is exposed to a domestic animal, such as a dog or cat, the animal will be confined for a period of ten days from the incident date. The confinement usually takes place in the pet owner's home.

If the animal is alive and healthy after the ten day confinement period, there is no risk of rabies and the person bitten/scratched does not need rabies exposure treatment.

If the animal dies within the ten day confinement period, or is suspected of rabies, then the animal will be sent for rabies testing. If the results come back positive for rabies, the person exposed to the animal bite/scratch will be started on rabies vaccine.

In situations when the whereabouts of the animal is unknown, based on a risk assessment the person bitten/scratched may receive rabies vaccine (PEP).

Bite/Scratch from Wild Animals

Wild animals include skunks, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and other carnivores. If a person has been bitten/scratched by a wild animal, and the animal is available, it will be sent for rabies testing. If the results come back positive for rabies, the person exposed to the animal bite or scratch will receive rabies vaccine.

In situations when the whereabouts of the animal is unknown, it is recommended that the person bitten/scratched receives rabies vaccine.

Bite/Scratch from Livestock, Rodents, Rabbits, and Hares

Squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice, other rodents, rabbits, and hares are rarely found to be infected with rabies and are not an exposure concern. In this case, no rabies exposure treatment is necessary other than cleaning the wound.

However, if the behavior of the biting animal is highly unusual, rabies vaccine may be recommended.

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What do I do if my animal is under the ten day confinement?

If you have been notified that your animal must be confined, please follow the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s Rules for Rabies Confinement (PDF 343KB).

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Contacts for situations in which no human exposure has occurred

Depending on the animal situation you encounter, there may be one (or several) agencies to contact. 

If a live, potentially rabid animal is threatening your safety, call:

If a live, potentially rabid animal is near your home and has contact with:

If you find a sick or injured bat that has had no contact with a human or animal, call:

For advice about a wildlife problem on your property, contact:

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Additional Information

To speak to a Public Health Inspector on the Environmental Health Team about rabies, or to report an animal bite/scratch, please call:

  • 519-663-5317
 
Date of creation: December 21, 2012
Last modified on: January 8, 2021

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References

1Ontario Ministry of Health. (2020, April). Management of Potential Rabies Exposures Guideline, 2020 Retrieved from
http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/oph_standards/docs/protocols_guidelines/Mgt_of_Potential_Rabies_Exposures_2020.pdf