ARCHIVED - Animals and Your Health

Together with First Nations organizations and communities, Health Canada carries out many activities to help people keep healthy and to prevent chronic and contagious diseases. This involves promoting public health through the prevention and control of diseases, including diseases that cross the boundary between animals and humans such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease, rabies, and hantavirus.

Prevent the Spread of Communicable Diseases - Wash Your Hands

How to wash your hands:

  1. Wet hands.
  2. Soap.
  3. Lather for 15 seconds.
  4. Rinse.
  5. Dry hands well with paper towel or air dryer.
  6. Turn taps off with paper towel if available.

Always wash your hands:

  • after using the washroom;
  • before and after touching food;
  • after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose;
  • after changing a diaper;
  • after cleaning bathrooms, animal cages, or handling garbage;
  • after touching pets, other domestic or wild animals;
  • after outdoor activities; or,
  • after any activity that may have contaminated your hands.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an excellent alternative to hand washing when soap and water aren't available. If your hands are very dirty, use soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use a moist-towelette that contains detergent followed by an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

To use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  1. Read the instructions on the label.
  2. Put a dime-sized drop on the palm of your hand and rub your hands together.
  3. Cover all surfaces, including fingers and wrists, and rub until dry (about 15 to 25 seconds).

Young children can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, but make sure they rub their hands completely dry before touching anything to prevent them from taking in alcohol from hand-to- mouth contact. Store the container safely away after use.

What You Should Know About Hantavirus

In Canada, only the deer mouse has been identified as a carrier of hantavirus, however not every mouse is a carrier. Since it is hard to tell if a mouse carries hantavirus, it is best to avoid all wild mice and to safely clean up any rodent droppings and nests in your home. Dogs and cats that come in contact with rodents cannot give people hantavirus infections.


People can get sick when they breathe in hantavirus particles that have become airborne during cleaning activities such as sweeping and vacuuming in rodent infested buildings. Hantavirus causes flu-like symptoms but it may progress into serious lung complications that can be fatal.

To reduce the risks associated with hantavirus:

  • Keep mice out of your home. Block openings that might allow rodents from entering;
  • Store human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids;
  • Keep your yard clean and store woodpiles above the ground;
  • When cleaning your home or community, be aware of mouse droppings and nesting materials. If you find any, clean them up safely.

How to clean up mouse droppings:

Preparing a bleach solution
  • Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
  • Spray droppings with a general purpose household disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water (1 part bleach, 9 parts water).
  • Make sure you get the droppings very wet. Let the area soak for five minutes.
  • Use a paper towel to wipe up the droppings. Dispose of the paper towel immediately.
  • Wash gloves in disinfectant and hot soapy water before removing them from your hands, and wash your hands and face before eating and drinking.
  • In confined spaces or where it is impossible to avoid stirring-up dust, open windows to provide plenty of ventilation before doing any cleaning. Consider wearing a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered respirator.

Clean-up tip:
Do not
sweep or vacuum up mouse droppings or nests. Sweeping and vacuuming moves virus particles into the air, where they can be breathed in.

For more information, visit the Hantaviruses Web page.

Protect Yourself from Animal Bites and Rabies


Humans are exposed to rabies by bites from dogs and cats that have had contact with rabid wildlife such as coyotes, bats, foxes, skunks or raccoons, or through direct contact with rabid wildlife. Symptoms of rabies include twitching around the bite mark, fever, headache, and fatigue. It could lead to difficulty speaking, sensitivity to light and sound, double vision, hallucination, partial paralysis, aggressiveness, seizures and death.

Here's how to prevent rabies:

Avoid touching or close contact with animals that might be sick. Rabid animals can show a variety of symptoms. They may become unafraid of humans, appear outside their normal habitats, walk with an unsteady step and be seen at times of the day when they are usually not active. They can also appear hyper and show indiscriminate biting.

  • Report suspicious animals to your local health centre or nursing station.
  • Teach your children to avoid unfamiliar animals, even if they appear friendly.
  • Keep your pets away from wild animals and ensure that vaccines are up-to-date.
  • Domestic animals involved in bites should be confined for a period of 10 days to be observed for rabies symptoms.
  • If possible, wild animals involved in bites should be captured and tested for rabies.
  • If you have been bitten by a wild animal or by an animals suspected of having rabies, seek medical attention. Treatment may be required to prevent the development of the disease.

Protect Yourself - Avoid Tick Bites


Lyme disease is a bacterial infection. It is transmitted from ticks (small insects) to people through the bite of an infected tick. Tick bites are usually painless and most people do not know that they have been bitten.

Lyme disease in people starts about two weeks after the tick bites with an expanding ring-like rash, which then fades. Many people develop "flu-like" symptoms, such as headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches or fatigue.

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. If untreated, some people may continue to experience headaches, and may develop dizziness, difficulty concentrating, stiff neck and, in rare cases, an irregular heartbeat. Some people may also develop chronic joint pain and swelling. These symptoms may occur for up to two years or more after a tick bite.

How to avoid tick bites
Apply insect repellent containing DEET or other approved products whenever you are likely to be exposed to ticks or insects. Always follow the directions.

Three People dressed properly for the outdoors

Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and a hat if you are camping, hunting or going into wooded or swampy areas. Tucking pants into socks will reduce the chance of ticks getting onto your skin.

Check yourself, your family and your pets for ticks after being outdoors.

What should you do if you think you have been bitten?

  • If the tick is attached to your skin, carefully remove it with tweezers. Grasp the tick close to the skin and pull slowly upward with steady pressure; avoid twisting or crushing the tick. Do not burn or smother the tick. Cleanse the skin around the tick bite with soap and water or disinfectant.
  • Mark the date and location of the bite on the calendar. Please note that ticks which are removed within one day of biting are much less likely to transmit Lyme disease. If you develop a rash or other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider.

Avoid Mosquitoes


West Nile Virus (WNV) is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected with the virus after feeding on wild birds that carry it. Most people infected with WNV do not show any symptoms. Others develop a flu-like illness. In rare cases, WNV leads to severe illness and even death. Anyone can get sick from WNV, but the risk of severe illness increases with age.

How you can reduce the risk of contracting West Nile virus:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET or other approved products whenever you are likely to be exposed to insects. Always follow the directions.
  • Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and a hat if you camping, hunting or going into wooded or swampy areas.
  • Clean-up sources of standing water, where mosquitoes develop.

Are insect repellents containing DEET safe?
Yes! Health Canada recommends insect repellents containing 5% to 30% DEET. DEET has a 50-year history of safe use in North America. Only use insect repellents that are registered in Canada.

Directions for applying insect repellent:

  • Always read and follow the directions on the container.
  • Only a thin layer of repellent is needed. Use only on skin surfaces that are not covered by clothing. Spray some on your clothing too.
  • If you plan to be outdoors for a short period of time, choose a product with a lower concentration of DEET and repeat application only if you need a longer protection time.
  • Wash skin with soap and water when you return indoors after using insect repellents or when you no longer need protection.
  • Do not put repellent on children's faces or hands. This will reduce their chances of getting it in their eyes and mouth.
  • You can use both sunscreen and insect repellents when you are outdoors. Follow the instructions on the package for proper applications of each product. Apply the sunscreen first, followed by the insect repellent.

Guidelines for using insect repellent:

  • Do not use DEET on infants below the age of 6 months.
  • For young children aged 6 months to 2 years, use only if there is a high risk of mosquito bites, and then use only once a day (use products containing 10% DEET or less).
  • For children 2 to 12 years of age, use no more than 3 times a day (10% DEET or less). Avoid using over a long period.
  • For adults and children over 12 years of age, Health Canada recommends approved insect repellents containing 5% to 30% DEET.
  • Do not use repellent on open wounds or on skin that is sore or sunburned.
  • Use mosquito repellent when outdoors at any time of day. Mosquitoes can bite day or night, depending on where you are in Canada.

During spring and summer, keep your home and yard clear of standing water because mosquitoes can develop in even a small amount of standing water.

  • Empty water from old tires, flower pots, rain barrel lids, toys and other outdoor objects.
  • Store larger outdoor items like canoes, wheelbarrows and wading pools upside down.
  • Replace water in outdoor pet dishes and other containers twice a week.
  • Encourage your kids and neighbours to clean up too!

For more information and links to resources on West Nile virus, visit the Health Canada West Nile Virus webpage.

What You Should Know About Avian Influenza

Avian influenza or 'bird flu' is a virus that can affect all species of birds but can, less commonly, infect mammals including people. Wild birds are not generally affected by bird flu but can still spread it to domestic birds such as chickens, geese and turkeys. There is a strain of bird flu called H5N1 circulating throughout Southeast Asia and parts of Europe. This particular strain of flu will kill most domestic birds it infects, including chickens, ducks and geese. Avian influenza viruses such as the H5N1 virus can, on rare occasions, infect people. To date, most human cases have been linked to direct contact with infected poultry and their droppings. This contact often includes exposure to the virus during the slaughter, de-feathering and preparation of poultry for cooking.

To help reduce your risk:

  • Avoid touching or contact with birds that might be sick.
  • Report suspicious birds or unusual bird die-offs to your local Environmental Health Officer, health centre or nursing station.
  • Teach your children to avoid wild birds, or any birds that are sick or dead.

For more information and links to resources on Avian Influenza, visit Health Canada's Influenza (The Flu) webpage.

Protect Yourself From The Flu

Getting a flu shot

Influenza, or the "flu", is a common respiratory illness affecting millions of Canadians each year. Although most people recover completely, between four and five thousand Canadians can die of influenza and its complications annually, depending on the severity of the flu season.

The good news is that you can decrease your chances of getting the flu this winter by getting an influenza vaccination, known as the "flu shot". It is a safe and effective way to prevent the flu, reduce the spread of infection, or minimize the severity of the symptoms. It is necessary to be immunized each fall. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.

For more information and links to resources on the Flu, visit Health Canada's Influenza (The Flu) webpage.

Health Tips for Hunters, Trappers, Fishers and Campers:

Cooking around a campfire.
  • Pack soap, soap alternatives such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and disposal gloves for the trip;
  • Wash your hands often;
  • Do not handle or eat sick animals, including birds and fish, or ones that have died from unknown causes;
  • Avoid touching the blood, secretions or droppings of wild animals;
  • Do not rub your eyes, touch your face, eat, drink or smoke when cleaning wild game, including birds or fish;
  • Keep young children away when cleaning game and discourage them from playing in areas that could be contaminated with wild animal droppings;
  • When preparing game, wash knives, tools, work surfaces and other equipment with soap and warm water followed by a household bleach solution (0.5% sodium hypochlorite);
  • Wear water-proof household gloves or disposable latex/plastic gloves when handling or cleaning game, birds or fish;
  • Wash gloves and hands (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and warm water immediately after you have finished preparing game or cleaning equipment. If there is no water available, remove any dirt using a moist towelette, apply an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wash your hands with soap and warm water as soon as it is possible;
  • Never keep wild birds, animals or fish in your home or as pets.

If you become sick after handling wild animals, see your doctor. Consider getting an annual vaccination against seasonal human influenza if you often hunt or handle wild birds. This vaccination will not protect you against bird flu, but it will reduce the likelihood that you will become infected with both human and bird flu strains at the same time. This will limit the chance of the flu viruses mixing to create a new strain of flu virus to which people have little or no immunity.

Holiday Food Safety

Help reduce the risk of foodborne illness for your family and friends during the holiday season by following some basic food safety tips.

Clean - wash hands, contact surfaces (e.g. kitchen counters) and utensils often to avoid the spread of bacteria.

Separate - keep raw foods separate from cooked and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross contamination. Use two cutting boards, once for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and one for washed fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food, unless it has been washed with soap and warm water.

Cook- kill harmful bacteria by cooking foods to the proper internal temperature. Use an instant-read digital thermometer and cook to at least these temperatures:

  • 85ºC (185ºF) for whole poultry.
  • 74ºC (165ºF) for stuffing, casseroles, leftovers, egg dishes, ground turkey and ground chicken, including sausages containing poultry meat.
  • 71ºC (160ºF) for pork chops, ribs and roasts, and for ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, including sausages; and
  • 63ºC (145ºF) for all whole muscle beef and veal cuts, such as steaks and roasts. Wash the thermometer between temperature checks, and eat hot foods while they are still hot.

Chill - keep cold foods cold, and out of the danger zone between 4ºC (40ºF) and 60ºC (140ºF).

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours in shallow covered containers.

Travel - as always, keep hot foods hot (at or above 60ºC/140ºF) and cold foods cold (at or below 4ºC/40ºF) if you are travelling with food. Transport hot food in insulated containers with hot packs. Transport cold food in a cooler with ice or a freezer pack.

For more information, talk to your healthcare provider or visit Holiday Food Safety for more information about food safety.

For more information, talk to your community's Environmental Health Officer or healthcare provider.

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