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City of Hamilton - Public Health Services


What is Rabies?
  • Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus.
  • Rabies affects the central nervous system of humans and other mammals.
  • Rabies infection is usually always fatal unless treatment starts before symptoms appear.
  • Any warm blooded animal can get rabies, including humans.
  • In Ontario, the rabies virus is mainly found in and spread by:
    • bats
    • skunks
    • foxes
    • raccoons, and 
    • coyotes

How is Rabies Spread?

  • The virus is carried in the saliva and central nervous tissue of infected warm blooded animals.
  • It can infect mammals (including humans) through bites, scratches or if the saliva comes in contact with the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Once inside the body, the rabies virus travels from the point of infection (where the bite, scratch or saliva contact occurred) along the nervous system to the brain.
  • From the brain it then travels to the salivary glands in the mouth where there is potential for the virus to be transmitted to other animals or possibly humans.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in animals?

  • Rabies in animals can appear in two basic forms:
    • Dumb rabies
    • Furious rabies.

    Signs of Dumb rabies

  • Animals that appear quieter than normal and retreat to isolated places.
  • Wild animals, especially skunks, that lose their fear of humans.
  • Animals that show signs of paralysis including abnormal facial expressions, drooping heads, sagging jaws or paralyzed hind limbs.

    Signs of Furious rabies

  • Animals that show extreme excitement and aggression.
  • Animals that gnaw and bite their own limbs.
  • Animals that attack stationary things or other animals.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?

  • Symptoms usually begin with fever, cough, sore throat, headache and general weakness or discomfort.  As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include:
    • insomnia
    • anxiety
    • confusion
    • slight or partial paralysis
    • excitation, hallucinations
    • agitation
    • hypersalivation (increase in saliva)
    • difficulty swallowing, and 
    • hydrophobia (fear of water or unable to drink).
  • Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these more specific symptoms.

What should I do if I am bitten or scratched by an animal?

  • Wash the area with soap and water immediately. Washing immediately can greatly reduce the chances for infection. 
  • Contact your doctor immediately. 
  • Contact Public Health Services immediately. We can help determine your risk of exposure to rabies. We can help determine your risk of exposure to rabies. If rabies vaccination is recommended we will talk to you about how to get vaccinated.  
  • Notify Animal Services, if necessary.

What is the treatment if I have been bitten or scratched?

  • Treatment for rabies is called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP. 
  • This usually consists of a series of five visits to a doctor for the shots you need and they are given over a one-month period. 
  • PEP is safe and effective. 
  • PEP should be given as soon as possible after exposure. 
  • If you have received PEP in the past, you will need to talk to a doctor again as you will likely need another series of shots (usually two or up to the full series depending on how much time since your last set of shots).    
  • Rabies PEP is free to Ontario residents.

Is there a pre-exposure vaccine and how can I get it?

  • Yes, there is a pre-exposure vaccine however it is not provided by City of Hamilton Public Health Services.
  • Pre-exposure vaccine is recommended for people who will be:  
    • Spending 1 month or more in countries where rabies is common
    • Working in a job that may expose them to rabies such as:  certain laboratory workers, veterinarians, animal control, wildlife workers, forest rangers and miners.
  • Contact your family doctor to discuss your options. Pre-exposure vaccine is not free but may be covered by some individual insurance or benefit plans (check your plans).

How do I protect my family and pets against rabies?

  • Ensure that dogs and cats are kept current with their rabies vaccinations. Vaccination of cats and dogs is required by law in most health unit jurisdictions across Ontario, including Hamilton.   
  • Do not let your pet roam free outside. 
  • Keep your pet indoors at night time to avoid contact with wild animals.
  • Avoid feeding your pets outdoors as empty bowls will attract wild or stray animals.
  • Keep your garbage securely covered. Open garbage will attract wild and stray animals.
  • Wild animals should be observed from a distance and should not be kept as pets. The Ministry of Natural Resources issues special permits in rare cases; otherwise it is illegal to keep wild animals as pets.  
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals – even if they appear friendly, including dogs and cats. 
  • Avoid animals behaving strangely and report strays to Animal Services.
  • Report all animal bites, scratches and possible rabies exposures to Public Health Services as soon as possible.

Why are bats a concern for rabies?

  • Bats can carry and transmit rabies.
  • Nearly all human cases of rabies in Canada over the past several years have been a result of bites from rabid bats.
  • Bat bites may go unnoticed. Any direct contact with a bat should be taken seriously.

What should I do if I come in contact with a bat?

  • If you have been bitten, scratched or exposed to bat saliva seek medical advice immediately
  • If a bat has been found in a room with a child or adult who cannot give a reliable history of any contact with a bat, seek medical advice immediately. 
  • If there is a bat in your house, try to confine the bat in a room. Make sure there is no human contact. Do not try to capture the bat. Contact Animal Services or a wildlife removal service.
  • Notify Public Health Services so the contact details can be reviewed. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may be required or if the bat is available the bat may be sent for rabies testing. 

How can I bat-proof my home?

  • Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats to enter. Any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch (6 mm x 12 mm) should be sealed. 
  • Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics.
  • Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking and ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
  • Observe where the bats exit at dusk and exclude them by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats can crawl out and leave, but cannot re-enter. After the bats have been excluded, seal the openings permanently. 
  • During summer, many young bats are unable to fly. If you exclude adult bats during this time, the young may be trapped inside and die or make their way into living quarters. If possible, avoid exclusion from May through August. 
  • Most bats hibernate in the fall or winter, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home.

If you find a bat in your home, do not handle it by yourself. For assistance with removing a bat from your home and bat-proofing, contact your local Animal Services or a wildlife removal service.

What should I do if my pet has been exposed to a bat?

  • Contact your veterinarian to discuss the care of your pet.
  • Contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Hamilton veterinarian to discuss whether the bat should be tested for rabies

  • Keep rabies vaccinations current for cats, dogs and other animals, especially if bats are known to enter your home.

Contact information

Public Health Services – To Report a Bite to Humans
24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 905-546-3570

Business Hours:
If you wish to report a bite or if you are a physician requesting vaccine, please call our Rabies Program Secretary at 905-546-2424 ext. 3327.

If you have questions about rabies or if you are calling back about a report, please call our Rabies Line at 905-546-2424 ext. 2287 to speak to our Vector Borne Disease Specialist or a Public Health Inspector.

Animal Services 905-574-3433

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Veterinarian - 905-572-2201

Wildlife Removal Services Please check the yellow pages or online for these services locally.  

Childrens Resources:

Rabies Activity Book - This fun resource teaches children about rabies, how people and animals can get rabies and what to do when they come in contact with pets and wild animals!  

English - PDF Version

City of Hamilton Public Health Services and local partners, including:

  • City of Hamilton Animal Services
  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Hamilton office)
  • Hamilton-Burlington Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HB SPCA)
  • Hamilton Academy of Veterinarians

participated in an event for the first time to mark the 4th Annual World Rabies Day in September, 2010. Public Health Services with local partners plan to mark World Rabies Day every September with a local event(s) in Hamilton.

Read more about how World Rabies Day began and how you or your organization can participate. Visit the official web site at

Last updated: May 4, 2011