Disease sometimes confused for rabies spreading among Toronto raccoons: Officials
Toronto Animal Services says a virus sometimes confused for rabies is spreading among raccoons in the city.
In a tweet Sunday, Toronto police said they received a call about a man who was reportedly bitten by a raccoon that chased him. The man believed the raccoon was rabid, but that was not confirmed.
In another tweet, police said there is a virus spreading in the south end of the city and advised the community to be cautious.
Toronto Animal Services told CP24 Sunday that the virus in question is distemper, not rabies. They also said “no animal to human bite has been confirmed.”
According to Nicola Ware of Toronto Animal Services, distemper is a virus that causes unusual or atypical behavior in raccoons. Dogs and skunks are also susceptible to the virus, but most dogs are vaccinated against the virus at the vet.
Ware said Toronto Animal Services routinely tests dead raccoons for rabies and no recent tests have come back positive.
However animals who have distemper are sometimes mistaken for being rabid because the neurological effects of the disease can cause animals to behave strangely.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto Sunday, Dr. Edison Barrientos said it’s normal to see occasional spikes in the number of distemper cases reported.
“It's actually quite common in raccoons,” he said. “It usually goes in waves once or twice a year and it can cause a lot of mortality and abnormal behaviours in raccoons as well."
According to the Toronto Wildlife Centre’s website, early symptoms of distemper can include fever, vomiting and diarrhea, and extreme thirst.
In the later stages of the disease, neurological damage can cause animals to wander aimlessly, appear sleepy or drunk, and to approach people without aggression. Animals may also have seizures, as well as a green discharge from the eyes or nose.
While distemper can be fatal to raccoons, it poses no risk to humans.
Barrientos said pet owners should make sure that their animals receive annual vaccinations against both distemper and rabies.
-With a report by CTV News Toronto Reporter Miranda Anthistle