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Reduce exposure to wild animals and pets that can spread rabies

Richard Ovcharovich, Manager, Environmental Health, HKPR District Health Unit

Temperatures are not the only thing on the rise these days. So too is the frequency of local residents being bitten or scratched by animals, putting them at risk of rabies or other serious injuries.

Year-to-date in 2019, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health has investigated approximately 300 incidents locally in which people were bitten or scratched by an animal, potentially exposing them to rabies. Just under two-thirds of these cases in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes have occurred since April 1st.

“During the warmer weather months, we typically see an increase in the number of incidents in which people are bitten or scratched by animals,” notes Richard Ovcharovich, Manager of Environment Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “But what’s concerning to us is the significant jump in cases so far this spring and summer.”

The Health Unit encourages people to be careful around wild animals and pets, especially as a bite or scratch can put them at risk of serious injury and potential exposure to rabies. When seeing any wild animal, Ovcharovich recommends not to pet or approach it. “It’s best to enjoy animals from a distance,” he says. “If a wild animal is growling or showing aggressive behavior, back away slowly to gain distance from it. Never turn around and run. Avoid direct eye contact with the animal, as it is a sign of dominance that may provoke some animals to attack.”

Domestic pets like dogs should also be approached with caution, as they’re often involved in animal bite cases investigated by the Health Unit. “Ensure you have permission and full attention of the owner before approaching a pet,” Ovcharovich advises. “Even if you are just being kind or well-meaning by petting or touching an animal, your actions can be misinterpreted by a dog or cat, which could scratch, nip or bite you.”

Pet owners should also be responsible by making sure their animals are leashed, under control, and discouraged from running free unless they are in a designated dog park. This can also be good for pets, as it may reduce their exposure to wild animals that may have rabies. Regular rabies vaccination of pets is also essential, Ovcharovich adds.

Rabies is a serious disease caused by a virus. It is fatal if left untreated. The Health Unit must be notified any time an animal bites or scratches a person. Public Health Inspectors investigate each incident to determine if there is a risk of rabies to the person. If a domestic animal is involved, it is quarantined for a 10-day period to confirm that it was not sick with rabies when it bit or scratched the victim. The Health Unit provides rabies vaccine for a person, if deemed necessary by a health care provider. To learn more, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5006, or visit

In 2018, the Health Unit investigated 674 cases locally in which an animal bit or scratched people.

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