Health Officials Urge Against Touching Baby Wildlife
Rabies Risk Continues in New York State
Albany, May 12 – With the onset of warmer weather and increased outdoor activity, the State Health Department reminds people to avoid handling baby wildlife because of the risk of rabies.
Due to the widespread nature of the wildlife rabies outbreak in New York State, the practice of picking up a baby animal because it's cute and cuddly or it appears abandoned can result in unnecessary rabies postexposure treatment to persons handling it and possible devastating consequences for the animal. People who touch wild animals may have to undergo a month–long series of rabies shots if they were bitten, scratched or had contact with the saliva or nervous tissue of a potentially–infected animal, unless it can be euthanized and tested to rule out rabies.
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus is present in the saliva and nervous tissue of an infected animal. Rabies is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. Cats, dogs and livestock can get rabies if they are not vaccinated or up–to–date on their rabies vaccinations. Deer and large rodents, such as woodchucks, also can get rabies.
New York confirmed a total of 1,096 animal rabies cases during 1998, more than any other state. For the past eight years, the number of wildlife rabies cases has topped one thousand. Case numbers increase and fall periodically in different regions of the state due to the cyclical nature of the disease. Even if case numbers decrease in some counties during a particular year, they will remain high in others.
Health officials warn that contact with bats may be especially dangerous. Picking up a bat may result in an exposure even if someone is not aware that they've been bitten because bats have small teeth and the bite may not be visible. If any such contact occurs, the bat should be captured, if it is possible to do so with no further contact, and submitted for rabies testing. If the rabies test is positive, all persons found to be at risk will undergo rabies postexposure treatment. Rabies is a fatal disease unless postexposure treatment is given before symptoms occur.
If You are Exposed to Rabies:
- Immediately wash the area of contact with lots of soap and water –– this is a critical step to prevent the virus from reaching your nervous system.
- Seek medical attention right away.
- Call your county health agency to evaluate your risk of rabies, including whether rabies postexposure treatment is recommended. Your costs may be reimbursable, providing treatment is recommended by your local health department.
For More Information
Persons who have been bitten, scratched or licked by a wild animal, or who have questions about other possible exposures to rabies are advised to contact their county health agency. Telephone numbers may be found on the first page of your telephone book or in the "Government Listings" section. Additionally, county phone numbers are available at the NYSDOH website: www.health.state.ny.us (click on "Directory Services," then "Rabies Response Helplines").
Questions regarding the submission of animal specimens for rabies testing should be directed to the county health agency. Technical information on rabies and rabies testing is available by contacting the NYS DOH Wadsworth Center Rabies Laboratory at (518) 869–4527 during normal business hours. For after–hours emergencies, the number to call is (518) 527–7369 or 7370. Information may also be obtained on the Rabies Laboratory website at: www.wadsworth.org/rabies