Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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July 14, 2004

Bat Rabies Is a Health Threat for Pets and Humans

Animal rabies continues to be a serious public health problem in New York State. Now that summer has arrived, there is increased contact between wildlife and people and their pets. The Oswego County Health Department reminds all Oswego County residents that it is prepared to help anyone who may have been exposed to rabies or who has questions about the disease.

"The staff of the Oswego County Health Department are available around the clock to respond to rabies questions," said Health Commissioner Kathleen Smith.

Routine inquiries and requests for information can be obtained by calling 349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3564, during business hours. Evenings, weekends or holidays, residents with urgent inquiries can call the health department's on-call service at 341-0086.

Oswego County residents should be aware that significant numbers of household pets, particularly cats, have been diagnosed as rabid in recent years. Of the more than 30,000 New Yorkers who have been treated for exposure to rabies since 1990, many reported contact with a pet that had fought with a rabid animal.

"Pet owners need to know that New York State law requires all dogs, cats and domesticated ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies," said Smith. "If an unvaccinated pet or one that's overdue on its vaccination comes in contact with a rabid or suspected rabid animal, the pet must either be destroyed or strictly quarantined for six months."

It is essential that pet owners make sure that their animals are immunized against rabies, and that their vaccinations are kept up-to-date. Vaccinated animals that come in contact with wild animals can be given booster vaccinations, but these shots must be given within five days of exposure.

For the convenience of local pet owners, the Oswego County Health Department will hold a rabies vaccination clinic Wednesday, July 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Oswego County Highway Garage, Route 104, Scriba. There is no charge for the vaccination. Donations will be accepted.

Commissioner Smith said that bat rabies continues to be of particular concern in New York State and Oswego County. In the past decade, two people have died in New York State from bat-associated rabies. In each case, family members recalled a bat in the home, but the possibility of exposure did not occur to them at the time of the incidents. Since 1990, 28 of 31 human rabies deaths among people who acquired the disease in the United States were as a result of bat rabies.

"While approximately 97percent of all bats tested by the State Health Department are negative for rabies, people should remain aware of the risk for rabies from any contact with a bat," said Smith.

If you find a bat in your home, do not release or discard it, but immediately contact the county health department. The health department urges all residents to take these common sense steps to avoid exposure to rabies:

  • If you are bitten, scratched or have contact with an animal you believe to be rabid, immediately wash the wound with soap and water, seek medical attention and report the incident to the Oswego County health department.
  • To avoid unnecessary rabies treatments, all potentially rabid animals that may have exposed someone should be confined and observed or tested for rabies. Contact the health department for more information.
  • Although a bite from a rabid animal is the primary way for rabies to be transmitted, call the county health department regarding any contact with an animal that may be rabid.
  • Avoid contact with any wild animal. Be suspicious of wild animals that are unusually tame or aggressive, especially those that attack your pets. Do not attract raccoons to your yard by feeding them.
  • Avoid contact with any stray animals, especially cats.
  • Do not handle pets with bare hands for several hours after any involvement with a suspected rabid wild animal. Pet owners should keep a pair of thick gloves handy for just such situations, and should bathe pets after wildlife encounters whenever possible.
  • Avoid contact with the saliva of any animal that may be rabid.
  • Do not release bats found in homes or cabins and seek advice from the health department about what to do with the bat. Immediately report any possible contact with bats, and such situations as bats in rooms or camp cabins with sleeping persons, unattended children, or individuals with mental impairment.

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