Niagara Regional Public Health has confirmed 2 rabid skunks on Line 9

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Two cases of rabies have been confirmed in Niagara-on-the-Lake within the past month says Niagara Regional Public Health (NRPH), both in skunks.

Peter Jekel, NRPH's manager of environmental health, said Tuesday that the first case was confirmed by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on Nov. 1 in a skunk that had been killed on the road.

NRPH confirmed the second case on Nov. 23 after a man phoned in to report a confrontation between a skunk and his dog.

Both cases were found on Line 9. Jekel was unable to offer more specific details about either of the case locations.

Public health has been collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry since December 2015, said Jekel, when the raccoon rabies outbreak hit Hamilton.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is handling animal-wildlife interactions, while the other ministry is handling wildlife surveillance and the public health is handling human exposure.

Whether the two rabid skunks found are a result of the Hamilton outbreak or whether they represent a new rabies cluster requires more investigation.

"We don't know at this juncture," said Jekel.

When asked what the public should do to protect themselves from potentially rabid wildlife, Jekel said they're putting out the same message they always have.

"Get your pets vaccinated against rabies and stay clear of any wild or stray animals."

Since the rabies virus affects an animal's brain, Jekel said they don't always display the typical aggressive behaviour.

The virus may have simply removed the animal's rational fear of humans in some cases, meaning an animal may approach you or your pet and appear friendly, he said.

Since rabies is transmitted through saliva exposure, a simple lick or nip may be enough.

If you are concerned about your pet having been exposed to an unfamiliar animal, contact your local veterinarian for testing.

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