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County Health Department updates on rabies scare

by jmaloni
Fri, Jul 8th 2011 06:00 pm

As a follow-up to its warning of last week about possible rabid animals on Tonawanda Island in the City of North Tonawanda, the Niagara County Department of Health reports that the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Rabies Laboratory has confirmed that rabies was not present in the two woodchucks tested. However, all Niagara County residents are encouraged to take precautions against rabies exposure from wild and stray animals and to assure that their pets are vaccinated against this potential lethal disease.

According to Jack Landrigan, associate supervising public health sanitarian, rabies is a preventable disease that can spread from infected wild animals and pets to humans. Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pet dogs, cats and ferrets and by avoiding contact with all wild and stray animals.

Infected animals spread rabies virus through their saliva. People and unvaccinated animals can be infected from a rabid animal from a bite or if the saliva gets into the eyes, nose, mouth or a break in the skin. Rabies is endemic in bats and raccoons in New York State. Other wild animals, especially skunks and gray and red fox, are more likely than family pets to be infected with rabies because of exposure to raccoons and the widespread vaccination of pet cats, dogs and ferrets.

Last year, the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center tested more than 6,600 wild and domestic animals for rabies. Of the more than 2,800 bats tested, 84 were positive for rabies (eight in Niagara County), highlighting the need to know how to capture bats safely and how to submit them for testing.

To prevent rabies:

•Avoid handling bats. If you find a bat in your house and can capture it safely, contact the Health Department for assistance. Callers will be advised how to submit the bat for rabies testing and assess their need for preventive treatment. For further information, view a video on how to catch a bat safely online at the New York State Department of Health website at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/.

•Prevent bats, raccoons, and other wild animals from entering your home and other spaces where people and pets may be present.

•Keep your pet cats, dogs, and ferrets up-to-date on their rabies vaccines. Consider vaccinating livestock and horses for rabies.

•Do not leave your pets outside alone or let them roam free.

•Do not leave food or water outdoors for your pets or for wild animals.

•Keep garbage and recycling bins securely covered to avoid attracting wild or stray animals.

•Never handle wild or stray animals, even if they are young, injured, or appear friendly.

•Teach children never to approach or touch unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic.

•Let wild animals and unknown pets wander away on their own if they are on your property or nearby. Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside.

If bitten by a wild or stray animal, wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water and contact your health care provider and the Health Department immediately. If the animal can be captured safely without further exposure, it can be tested for rabies. If the animal does not have rabies, you will not need preventive treatment. If the animal does have rabies, you can receive treatment to prevent developing rabies.

For more information on rabies prevention, visit the Niagara County Department of Health website at www.niagaracounty.com and the state Health Department website at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/.

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