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Be aware of wildlife to guard against rabies virus infection

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Mon, May 20th 2024 07:00 am

Submitted by the Niagara County Department of Health

The Niagara County Department of Health is raising awareness about the dangers of the rabies virus, and reminding residents what to do when they encounter wildlife – whether it is indoors or out.

It’s important to report all domestic and wild animal bites, or contact with wildlife, to the Niagara County Department of Health’s environmental division as soon as possible. Call 716-439-7444.

“Any potential contact with either a wild or domestic animal should be reported right away,” said Paul Dicky, director of environmental health. “Staff will investigate to determine the threat of exposure to people and pets.” 

The NCDOH supports the messaging of environmental conservation organizations and wildlife rehabilitators who promote the messaging “If You Care, Leave It There.” Learn to appreciate wildlife from a safe distance and resist the urge to touch or pick up any wildlife. Human contact with wildlife can carry unintended consequences detrimental to both humans and the animals that people are intending to help. 

Niagara County Associate Supervising Public Health Sanitarian Scott Ecker said bat encounters are also a concern: “Because bats are a potential carrier of the rabies virus, if you wake up because a bat landed on you while you were sleeping, or if you wake up and find a bat in your room, you should try to safely capture it, without further exposing yourself, and have it tested. This also applies if you find a bat in a room with an unattended child or someone with a mental impairment. Basically, if a bat is found indoors and there is a chance it may have had contact with a person or a pet, it is extremely important not to release it.”

For instructions on how to capture a bat, watch the New York State Department of Health video, “Catch a Bat Safely,” at https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/.

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system. It is most often seen among wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes, although any mammal can be infected with the disease – including people and pets.

People usually get exposed to the rabies virus from the bite of an infected animal; however, exposure can also occur if saliva from a rabid animal enters an open cut or mucous membrane such as the eyes, nose or mouth.

To minimize the chance of exposure to rabies, people should be wary of any animals that act abnormally. Unusual actions include aggressive or tame behavior, no fear of humans, aimless wandering, or appearing disoriented.

The NCDOH offers these tips to further reduce the risk of exposure to the rabies virus:

√ DO NOT pick up, touch or feed wildlife or stray dogs and cats. Wild or feral animals, including their babies, can be rabid. Teach children to do the same.

√ If a wild animal is on your property, get indoors and let it wander away.

√ Keep pets and livestock animals up to date on their vaccinations.

√ Don’t let pets roam free, and bring them indoors at night.

Ecker said the rabies virus is active throughout the year.

“We typically see more rabies activity because people are outdoors more with warmer weather, but they should be aware of wildlife and the dangers of rabies year-round,” he cautioned.

Dicky reminded pet owners that New York state law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets from 4 months of age and older to be current with rabies vaccination.

“Even animals that remain indoors can be exposed to rabies through a bite or scratch from a rabid bat,” he said. “Immunizing your pets is the most effective protection from rabies virus.”

Visit your veterinarian or mark your calendar for our next free rabies clinic.

The NCDOH will host its next rabies clinic from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 1, at the Hyde Park – Oasis/Centennial Pavilion (behind Ice Arena), 911 Robbins Drive, City of Niagara Falls. Appointments to attend the clinic are mandatory and can be made online at www.niagaracounty.com/rabiesclinic starting May 28. Call 716-439-7511 for more information or to register by phone.

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