State Health Commissioner Urges Rabies Prevention: Observes September 8 as 'World Rabies Day'

Albany, N.Y. (Sept. 7, 2007) - The New York State Health Department today joined public health leaders worldwide in an effort to eliminate the fatal disease of rabies by observing September 8 as World Rabies Day.

"Rabies is a viral disease that leads to a brain infection and death in almost all cases," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "While New York has not seen a human rabies case since 2000, more than 3,000 individuals received treatment for exposure to rabies last year."

There were 612 reports of rabid animals in New York last year. The last case of human rabies in New York occurred in 2000 when a New Yorker traveling in Africa was bitten by a dog, illustrating the global nature of rabies. Any mammal, including dogs and cats, can be infected with rabies, but in New York rabies is most commonly found in raccoons, skunks, and bats. New Yorkers can reduce the risk of contracting rabies by making sure that pet vaccinations are up to date and by avoiding touching wild animals.

To fight the northward spread of raccoon rabies in New York and Canada, Commissioner Daines recently participated in the Department's annual helicopter air drop of rabies vaccine bait over northeastern New York. The rabies bait drop program has successfully eliminated raccoon rabies from Clinton County and stopped the northward spread of rabies from southern Essex County. Rabies vaccine drops are also conducted on Long Island and in western New York.

In observance of World Rabies Day, health agencies worldwide have scheduled events to highlight the importance of rabies prevention efforts. In New York, many counties are holding free rabies vaccination clinics for pets on September 8. For a listing of local health departments visit www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/contact.htm New York State law requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies.

To help protect your family and your pets from rabies:

  • Keep bats out of homes and other living spaces by sealing small openings and keeping unscreened doors and windows closed.
  • If people or pets may have had contact with a bat, it is important to capture the bat for testing, then contact your local health department to determine whether rabies exposure could have occurred and if the bat should be tested for rabies.
  • Wash any animal bites and scratches immediately with soap and water and contact your health care provider immediately. Call your local health department to evaluate your risk of rabies, including whether rabies post-exposure treatment is recommended.
  • Keep your pet's rabies vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Do not feed wild or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home.
  • Keep garbage cans tightly covered, and avoid storing any food, including pet food, outside.
  • Do not approach or handle any unknown wild or domestic animal. Contact your local health department for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators for assistance with wildlife.
  • Teach children to never approach any unfamiliar animal, even if the animal appears friendly, and to tell an adult immediately if they are bitten or scratched.

For more information on rabies, visit the State Health Department website at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/ or visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/.