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

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Sept. 3, 2010

County Health Director Advises -
To Prevent the Spread of Rabies, Avoid Contact with Bats and Other Wildlife

Reports of rabies increase during the summer months, and whether you live in a rural area, suburb or city, it is natural to be concerned.

The rabies virus affects the central nervous system, causing paralysis and ultimately death in infected animals. Symptoms include changes in behavior, including aggression and agitation as well as excessive salivation.

Rabies has been present in New York for more than 25 years. The virus can infect any mammal, including dogs, cats, livestock, small wildlife, and humans. The vast majority of rabies cases occur with wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes.

While the majority of rabies cases involve wild animals, keeping vaccinations current on dogs and cats, including indoor cats, is crucial to prevention, said Dr. Dennis Norfleet, Oswego County Public Health Director. "Pets can act as a bridge between a rabid wild animal and person, acquiring the virus through a bite and then bringing the virus into the household," he explained.

Bats found indoors present a significant risk to people and pets. If a bat is found near a sleeping person, young child, or anyone with mental incapacitation, call the County Health Department immediately.

"Bats have such small teeth that their bite can go unnoticed, and people have died from rabies from undetected bat bites," said Dr. Norfleet. "Determining an animal's rabies status is essential when there is contact between a potentially rabid animal and a person or pet."

Prevention and avoidance are important when dealing with wildlife. Raccoons and skunks are attracted to developed areas and neighborhoods, where they find food sources in garages, compost, gardens, bird feed and pet food. Skunks are particularly fond of white lawn grubs, the larvae of Japanese beetles.

Animals also take advantage of man-made shelters such as crawl spaces under garden sheds or decks, with raccoons frequently denning in chimneys and attics that are not capped or sealed. By eliminating artificial food sources and shelter, the chances of encountering raccoons around your home and yard will be greatly reduced.

To help prevent the spread of rabies, people should:

  • Keep pets under direct supervision in a yard or on a leash to minimize contact with wild animals.
  • Keep a safe distance from wildlife such as skunks, bats, raccoons, and foxes.
  • Keep garbage cans and other food sources such as pet food covered.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick or injured animals - call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, nuisance wildlife control officer, or animal control officer.
  • Teach children never to approach unfamiliar dogs, cats, or wildlife, even if they appear friendly.
  • Report animals that are acting strangely to your local dog or animal control officer or local health agency.
  • Treat any animal bites with soap and water and contact your health care provider immediately.
  • Use caution with a pet you suspect may have been in a fight with a wild animal. Handle with gloves and contact a veterinarian.
  • Bat proof your home by repairing screens, vents, and other areas where bats may gain access.

If an animal inflicts a bite or scratch, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 15 minutes and call your health care provider and the County Health Department at 315-349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3564. In an emergency during evenings, weekends or holidays, call the County Health Department's on-call service at 315-341-0086.

Rabies information is also posted on the New York State Department of Health Web site at http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/rabies/fact_sheet.htm

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