State Health Department Reminds New Yorkers to Take Precautions to Protect Themselves, Pets from Rabies

ALBANY, May 13, 2005 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today reminded New Yorkers to take precautions against rabies by avoiding contact with any wild animals and vaccinating their pets. As part of the State's public awareness efforts, Governor Pataki has proclaimed May as 'Rabies Awareness Month' in New York State.

Dr. Novello said "It is important to note that no humans have been confirmed with rabies in New York State over the past five years. However, rabies is a public health issue that we continue to combat in coordination with communities statewide to help better educate New Yorkers about the disease and the precautions they should take to avoid being exposed to rabid animals."

The State Health Department's Wadsworth Center Laboratories provides one of the most extensive rabies surveillance efforts in the country dedicated to protecting and promoting the health of New Yorkers through diagnosis and education. In 2004, there were 546 laboratory confirmed reports of rabid animals in New York State. Rabies is a fatal disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus is present in the saliva and nerve tissue of an infected animal and is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.

State and local health departments are working to increase public awareness of rabies through public service announcements, education materials and holding pet vaccination clinics. It is advised that anyone who has been bitten, scratched or had contact with the saliva or nerve tissue of a potentially-infected animal undergo a month-long series of rabies shots if the animal is rabid or is not available for testing.

Because bats have small, sharp teeth that may not leave a visible bite mark, any contact involves increased risk for rabies. Picking up a bat may result in exposure even if someone is not aware that they have been bitten. In addition to direct physical contact, unrecognized exposure indoors would be a particular concern if a bat was found in a room with a person sleeping or an unattended child.

When handling a bat, always wear gloves and avoid direct skin contact with the animal. Bats should be tested for rabies if there is a potential for exposure. Rabies post-exposure treatment may be unnecessary if bats are captured and test negative for rabies. Only three per cent of bats tested at the Wadsworth Laboratory test positive for rabies.

Dogs, cats and livestock are more susceptible to contracting rabies if they come in close contact with a rabid animal and their rabies vaccinations are not up-to-date. New York State Public Health Law mandates rabies vaccinations for all cats, dogs and domesticated ferrets. Deer and large rodents, such as woodchucks, can also contract rabies. If bitten or potentially exposed to a rabid animal you should:

If you have questions about possible exposure to rabid animals or bats, please contact your local health department or the State Health Department at http://www.health.ny.gov and/or the State's Wadsworth Center's Rabies Laboratory website at: http://www.wadsworth.org/rabies/.