Scarborough-area man seen being chased by a raccoon on the street Sunday morning. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

Man chased by raccoon believed to be infected; several animals being tested

Toronto police and the city’s animal services department say multiple raccoons have been rounded up by officers, amid what they believe is a viral outbreak among animals that could be carrying a rabies-like infection.

The latest incident, in the city’s Scarborough area, saw a man being chased down by a raccoon on the street Sunday morning, according to police.

Early reports by police suggested the man was bitten, but Toronto Animal Services said Sunday evening the raccoon only made contact with the man’s shoe.

That raccoon and several others that have been seen acting erratically in the past few days have been taken for testing by animal services officials.

The Scarborough man told officers he believed the raccoon might have rabies, but Toronto Animal Services say it’s more likely the animal had distemper, which can cause similar symptoms.

“It’s a virus found within the raccoon population and is highly contagious,” said Nicola Ware, a spokesperson for Toronto Animal Services.

“Deceased raccoons are routinely sent for testing. And to date, no raccoon from the Toronto area has tested positive for rabies.”

While there haven’t been any cases of rabies in Toronto, the Hamilton area has seen a steady increase in rabies cases among various animals in the past three years.

Linda Jacobson, a veterinarian at the Toronto Humane Society, said the latest figures she had seen indicate a substantial increase, but there haven’t been any cases of a human being infected with rabies.

Toronto police are still warning residents to be careful around the animals.

Jacobson said an animal infected with rabies would display sudden changes in behaviour, would stagger and fall, have trouble eating or drinking and would make unusual sounds.

“Those are things that make you think of rabies, but rabies isn’t the only thing that causes those things,” said Jacobson, who said she had once seen an erratic raccoon that looked like it had rabies, but later tested positive for distemper.

In the event of a bite, Jacobson said you should immediately call your local public health unit, which would then explain the best course of action.

In the case of the incident in Scarborough, staff from Toronto’s animal services department say the animal has been euthanized and will be tested for any infections.

Ware said that raccoons that have distemper are always euthanized, as it’s a fatal infection that causes a painful death for the animal.

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