Types of Rabies Exposures
Warm blooded animals are known to be able to carry and transmit the rabies virus. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. A person may become exposed to the rabies virus if they come in contact with an infected warm-blooded animal. In Ontario, the most common animals to carry the rabies virus are bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes.
Petting an animal, handling its blood, urine or feces is not considered to be an exposure. According to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care1, rabies exposures can occur in the following ways:
A bite occurs when there is penetration of the skin by teeth.
A non-bite occurs when there is a scratch, abrasion or cut on the skin or mucus membrane that comes in contact with saliva or other potentially infectious material from a warm blooded animal.
A bat exposure occurs when a bat bites or scratches a person, or if there is direct contact with a bat (the bat touches or lands on a person) and the following cannot be eliminated:
- A bite or scratch, or saliva from a live bat entered an open wound or mucus membrane.
Please contact the Grey Bruce Health Unit to discuss potential bat exposures.
Information for Animal Owners
If your animal has bitten someone, a Public Health Inspector will require you to isolate your pet for a confinement period to ensure it was not infectious with rabies at the time of the incident. Do not euthanize or vaccinate your animal during the confinement period. For more information, refer to the rules for Rabies Confinement.
Animal Exposure Investigations and Confinement Period
The Grey Bruce Health Unit investigates incidences of human exposure to animals with the potential to transmit rabies (e.g., animal bites or scratches) to determine the risk of exposure to rabies and if there is a need for treatment (e.g., vaccine).
Information about Animal Exposures: If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal, please follow the steps below:
Step 1: Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water.
Step 2: Seek medical attention (see a doctor) as soon as possible.
Step 3: Call and report the animal bite / scratch incident to the Grey Bruce Health Unit. If you seek medical attention, they will ask you to complete an Animal Exposure Report and then send it to the Grey Bruce Health Unit.
Step 4: If you are concerned about the animal’s behaviour (e.g., aggression), please contact your local animal control officer at your local municipality.
A Public Health Inspector will contact you regarding the animal exposure investigation. The investigation may vary depending on the nature of the exposure, type of animal, and circumstances surrounding the incident. The animal may need to undergo a confinement period or be sent to the lab to test for the rabies virus:
- Confinement period is an observation period to monitor the animal for signs and symptoms or rabies. If the animal stays healthy during this period, the animal did not have rabies in its saliva at the time of the incident. This means that the person who was bitten or scratched will not need rabies vaccine. If the animal was infectious with rabies at the time of the incident, it would become ill and die within the confinement period.
- Lab testing involves sending the animal’s brain to a lab to test for the rabies virus. The animal must be dead to send the brain to the lab. Rabies testing usually involves wild animals but can also be done on domestic animals. If the animal dies within the confinement period, or is suspected of rabies, then the animal will be sent for rabies testing. If the results come back positive for rabies, the person exposed will receive rabies vaccine.
If a person is exposed to a domestic animal, such as a cat or dog, the animal will be confined for a period of 10 days from the incident date, even if the animal’s rabies vaccination is up to date. The confinement usually takes place in the pet owner's home. The confinement may also take place at an animal shelter or a veterinarian’s office, depending on circumstances (e.g., reliability of the owner, the capacity to keep the animal away from people and other animals, and the suspicion of rabies in the animal). DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EUTHANIZE THE ANIMAL YOURSELF.
If the animal is alive and healthy after the ten day confinement period, there is no risk of rabies and the person bitten/scratched does not need rabies vaccine.
In situations when the whereabouts of the animal is unknown, rabies vaccine may be recommended for the person bitten/scratched.
If a person has been bitten/scratched by a wild animal, and the animal is available, it will be sent for rabies testing. The animal should be humanely euthanized in a way that does as little damage to the brain as possible. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EUTHANIZE THE ANIMAL YOURSELF. If the results come back positive for rabies, the person exposed to the animal bite or scratch will receive rabies vaccine. Depending on the circumstances of the exposure, and prevalence of rabies, a person may be started on vaccine before the testing results are available.
In situations when the whereabouts of the animal is unknown, it is recommended that the person bitten/scratched receives rabies vaccine.
When domesticated livestock species are involved in a potential rabies exposure of a human, a 14 day confinement period may be used to rule out the potential for rabies transmission. If the animal is alive and healthy after the 14 day confinement period, there is no risk of rabies and the person bitten/scratched does not need rabies vaccine.
The animal should be examined by a veterinarian. If the animal shows signs or symptoms of rabies at the time of the exposure or develops them during the confinement period. If the veterinarian examination suggests the likely onset of clinical rabies in the animal, it should be humanely euthanized in a way that does as little damage to the brain as possible, and the head will be submitted for laboratory examination and rabies testing. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EUTHANIZE THE ANIMAL YOURSELF.
Small rodents, such as squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice, rabbits, and hares are rarely found to be infected with rabies and are not an exposure concern. These animals would generally be killed during the encounter with the other animal that is rabid. In this case, no rabies exposure treatment is necessary other than cleaning the wound. However, if the behavior of the biting animal is highly unusual, rabies vaccine may be recommended. A bite from these animals while feeding, touching or otherwise interacting with them would not be considered unusual behaviour.
In Canada, rabies is rare in larger rodents (e.g., groundhogs (woodchucks) and beavers). Exposure to these animals requires a risk assessment by the Grey Bruce Health Unit in collaboration with the health care provider to determine the need for rabies vaccine. The risk assessment includes the frequency of rabies in these and other animals in the geographic area; the type of exposure; and the circumstances of the exposure, including whether it was provoked or unprovoked.
Contact the Grey Bruce Health Unit regarding management of suspected rabies exposures from these types of mammals.
 Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Management of Potential Rabies Exposure Guideline, 2018. (January 1, 2018).