BEECCHEY: Rehabilitators at risk of contracting COVID from wildlife

Content of the article

Ontario Wildlife Conservators were privileged to have Scott Weese, Head of Infection Control at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, as our guest on January 23 at our monthly virtual meeting on COVID in wildlife.

Content of the article

Here’s what happens. During COVID, rehabbers have developed protocols for dealing with the public. The research was rightly first focused on human involvement, but sometimes news broke about domestic cats, dogs and hamsters contracting COVID from humans. Cats are more susceptible with over 50% chance of contracting COVID from a human.

Now we finally get information about COVID in Ontario wildlife. In general, most wild animals are thought to contract the virus from humans.

Deer in Quebec and Saskatchewan have been found to carry the Delta variant, but it has now also been discovered in Ontario and it is feared that they are a reservoir, capable of transmitting the virus back and forth to humans . Hunters should check meat handling and cooking precautions.

We now know fox squirrels catch COVID, but so far it’s unclear if subspecies like gray, black, and red squirrels can. The mice are the same because not all subspecies have had the virus yet. Rabbits, raccoons, striped skunks, minks and other mustelids have all been infected. Wildlife research is not a high priority, so until more data is collected much remains speculation. As rehabbers we will have to assume that the subspecies could carry it and personally, to be sure, I will assume that all mammals can.

The good news is that birds and our bat species seem to be safe.

The chances of the public handling an infected animal are slim, as most are not involved in rescues or trapping. Symptoms for animals and humans seem similar, so if you must handle wild animals, follow human protocol and wear a mask and gloves.

Content of the article

To reduce the transition of COVID from wildlife to your home, restrict your dog and/or cat from roaming freely. They love bringing home mice, squirrels and rabbits in their mouths. Keeping them on your property, as required by most municipal bylaws, will reduce the risk of them, your family, and other pets catching and spreading disease. At present, the socialization of pets at the dog park is also not wise.

People who show symptoms or who are asymptomatic should follow the same protocols with animals as with other humans.

So far, rapid tests for animals are not readily available and rapid tests are also not for rehabilitation, and both will be a significant cost, which is also a problem.

As COVID cases rise in North American zoos, Quebec’s Granby Zoo hopes to vaccinate its animals against COVID, with primates and big cats first on the list, once the US vaccine is approved here . You can rest assured that the vaccine for wildlife will not be available soon or for people in rehab. The rabies vaccine, when we release our animals, is paid for out of pocket, even though we volunteer under the auspices of the MRN. Multiply by 10 or even 100 your dog’s rabies bill at the veterinarian!

There are approximately 53 rehabilitation centers in Ontario and only a handful of larger centers have staff and veterinarians. Most of us are backyard rehabilitators operating out of our homes. There were never enough of us to manage the thousands of orphans each year.

Most rehabbers work full time to support this voluntary hobby. The human ramifications of COVID, such as job losses and increased costs, and subtle and unknown MNR rule changes are diminishing our workforce. Others may have to stop rehabilitating if COVID in wildlife escalates as quickly and devastatingly as it does in humans. Most cannot afford to increase the ventilation in the “wildlife” room (usually the guest room or basement) of our homes or PPE equipment because we have close contact, especially with newborns and infants. Many rehabbers are elderly people with various health issues and have to decide, are we risking catching COVID from wildlife?

Climate change brought babies in December and January! Spring and summer are crazy with all the species and now we are getting another batch in August! All of this becomes overwhelming for the very small number of volunteer rehabilitation workers in Ontario.