College Connection Fall 2016 - Page 4

college connection PUBLIC HEALTH - RABIES GIVE IT A SHOT – RABIES VACCINATION PROGRAMS & CLINICS By: Maureen E.C. Anderson Lead Veterinarian, Animal Health & Welfare Veterinary Science Unit Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Since December 2015, more than 170 cases of terrestrial wildlife rabies have been confirmed in Ontario. With the exception of one skunk with fox-variant rabies, all of these cases have been caused by raccoonvariant rabies in the greater Hamilton area, representing the largest annual number of wildlife rabies cases in Ontario in over 20 years. Add to that the smaller but not insignificant number of rabies-positive bats that are consistently found in the province every year, and it’s clear that rabies is still alive and well in Ontario. The best protection against rabies is to avoid contact with the reservoir species that carry it; in Ontario that includes bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts certain pets will inevitably have contact with these species - even the “strictly indoor” kind that occasionally escapes or manages to catch the bat that found its way into the house. The next critical line of defense for both the pets themselves AND the people who care for and come in contact with them is rabies vaccination. This is not just an animal health issue, but a public health concern, which is why the Health Protection and Promotion Act requires rabies vaccination for all dogs and cats in 31 of 36 health units in Ontario. Keeping as many dogs and cats as possible vaccinated against rabies helps protect us all. Back in the 1970s and 1980s when Ontario was the rabies capital of North America, “low cost” rabies clinics were commonly held by veterinarians in an effort to do just this. Over time, as veterinary medical standards have changed and the risk of wildlife rabies in Ontario has greatly diminished, these clinics have become less common. While it would be ideal if every dog and cat was seen by a vet on an annual basis for a complete exam and preventive care, including regular rabies vaccination, the reality is many are not. Every 4 / College Connection year, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) assists with dozens of calls regarding unvaccinated or under-vaccinated pets that had to be put under precautionary confinement periods (PCPs) of 3-6 months because they were exposed to a potential rabies vector. This can cause a tremendous amount of strain on owners and animals alike, and in some cases has even resulted in owners choosing to euthanize their animals because they felt they could not adequately confine them for so long. From a public health standpoint, rabies vaccination is arguably one of the most important parts of owning and caring for a pet. By addressing some of the issues pet owners see as barriers to rabies vaccination, we can achieve greater uptake of this one critical element, particularly in areas where the risk of terrestrial wildlife rabies is higher. The CVO’s practice standards with regard to rabies vaccination programs includes the option to offer this service in an accredited facility as well as the traditional one-day rabies clinic at an unaccredited facility. Some clinics have added a requirement for pet owners to demonstrate financial need in order to target their rabies vaccination programs to those who truly can’t afford to bring their pets in for a regular appointment. In some health units, vet clinics can also support public health voucher programs, which help provide rabies vaccination for pets of high-risk or lowincome individuals specifically identified by public health personnel. Which vaccine to use and when? Another frequently-debated question with regard to rabies vaccination programs is whether one-year or three-year vaccine products should be used. All three-year rabies vaccines available in Canada still require an initial booster at 12 months in order for the three-year claim to apply. So when providing a vaccine to a pet of unknown vaccination status at a rabies vaccine clinic, the rabies certificate must indicate revaccination is due in a year. However, every animal responds slightly differently to vaccination, and some no doubt may be protected for longer than a year, particularly if a three-year product is used. Even though it can’t go on the vaccination certificate, this is still beneficial in terms of protecting the animal and thereby the public from rabies. Vaccinating an animal with a three-year product is still the best way to maximize the duration of its immunity to rabies, whether it returns for subsequent boosters at the correct intervals or not. If an animal is potentially exposed to rabies (particularly if the offending animal is not available for testing), it should be revaccinated within 7 days regardless of its current vaccination status. Even currently vaccinated animals require this postexposure booster to avoid the need for a PCP. Veterinarians do not need to wait 10 days to vaccinate such an animal – the 10 day waiting period for vaccination only applies to a pet that has bitten a person, not a pet that has been bitten by or otherwise exposed to a potentially rabid animal. In most cases, to err on the side of caution, a pet will be put under a 10 day observation period after biting a human regardless of its vaccination status. However, the owner of a dog or cat that is not currently vaccinated is in a position to be fined by the public health unit for not being in compliance with provincial regulations. More Infomation • Rabies • For risk assessments, rabies testing, post-exposure management for domestic animals, current terrestrial rabies case maps www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/ inspection/ahw/rabies.htm For CVO practice standards and rabies vaccination programs www.cvo.org For upcoming rabies vaccination clinics listed by health unit www.oavt.org