June is Rabies Awareness Month

State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers: Take Precautions Against Rabies Exposure

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 26, 2009) -- Governor David A. Paterson has proclaimed June as Rabies Awareness Month in New York State to remind all New Yorkers to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against rabies exposure from stray and wild animals.

"Prevention of rabies continues to be an important public health concern in New York State," said New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "Now that summer is here, wild animals become more active, so the possibility of human contact with these animals increases. Although our natural instinct may be to befriend an injured or baby animal or to pet one that seems friendly, any contact with stray and wild animals should be avoided."

Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People and unvaccinated animals can get rabies from the bite of an infected animal or from animal saliva entering a person's eyes, nose, mouth or any break in the skin. Vaccine is given to individuals exposed to rabies to prevent the disease. Rabies is nearly always fatal if treatment is not received soon after exposure.

Last year, there were 498 reports of rabid animals in the State. While New York has not seen a human rabies case since 2000, more than 2,800 individuals received treatment for exposure to rabies last year.

The rabies virus can infect any mammal including dogs, cats, livestock, wildlife and humans. The vast majority of rabies cases reported each year occur in wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes, but domestic animals such as cats, dogs, ferrets, and horses can become infected.

The best way to prevent rabies in pets is to make sure their rabies vaccinations are up to date. Free rabies vaccination clinics for dogs, cats, and ferrets are offered periodically through county health departments. Individuals should contact their local health department for clinic dates and locations.

Avoidance of wildlife is critical to the prevention of human rabies. Raccoons and skunks are attracted to developed areas and neighborhoods and feed on artificial food sources, such as garbage, compost, gardens, bird feed and pet food. Many animals live in man-made shelters such as crawl spaces under garden sheds or decks, with raccoons frequently living in chimneys and attics that are not capped or sealed. By eliminating both artificial food sources and shelter, the chances of encountering raccoons and skunks around the home and yard will be greatly reduced.

In the event of a bite or potential exposure to rabies, the following measures should be taken immediately:

  • Wash the area of contact thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Seek medical attention from your health care provider.
  • Call your local health department to evaluate your risk for rabies, including whether rabies post-exposure treatment is recommended.

To help protect your family and your pets from rabies:

  • Never approach or handle any unknown wild or domestic animals. Contact your local health department for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators for assistance.
  • Teach children never to approach any unfamiliar animal, even if the animal appears friendly. Instruct them to tell an adult immediately if they are bitten or scratched.
  • Prevent bats, raccoons, and other wild animals from entering homes or 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. Contact your local health department immediately. To learn how to catch a bat safely, view the video at: http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/.
  • 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. Don't leave your pets outside unattended, or let them roam free.
  • Keep garbage cans tightly covered, and avoid storing any food outside.

For more information on rabies and rabies prevention, visit the DOH Web site at: