TORONTO -- The City of Toronto is warning residents to avoid any and all contact with raccoons amid a significant increase in reports of people being attacked by the pesky animals.

Toronto Animal Services has seen a 62 per cent increase in reports of people being bitten and or scratched by racoons since last January when compared to the two-year average between 2018 and 2019.

It also received more than three times as many service requests for sick and injured racoons in 2020 than it did in 2019 (13,712 compared to 4,172), though the city acknowledged in a press release that the spike could be a result of residents being home more than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The City of Toronto advises residents to avoid physical contact with raccoons, and all other wild animals, due to a significant increase in the number of sick and injured raccoons and in the number of reported cases of raccoon bites and scratches. Physical contact includes feeding or petting raccoons and other wild animals, and other interactions which may be otherwise avoidable,” the news release states. “Residents who may have had physical contact with a raccoon or another wild animal should see a healthcare provider immediately to be assessed.”

The most recent case of wildlife rabies in Toronto was in 1997 but the city said in its release that raccoons are considered to be a higher risk species for rabies transmission and should not be approached as a result.

It says that if residents are bitten or scratched by a raccoon they should immediately wash the wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention.

“The rabies vaccine is extremely effective but must be administered before symptoms appear,” the release warns.