State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers to Prevent Rabies by Avoiding Contact with Stray or Wild Animals

June is Rabies Awareness Month

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 25, 2010) - Governor David A. Paterson has declared June Rabies Awareness Month in New York State to remind New Yorkers that the risk for human contact with potentially rabid wildlife increases during the warmer months.

"In warmer weather, wild animals become more active and the possibility of human contact increases," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "Although we may want to befriend or pet a baby animal or rescue an injured one, New Yorkers should avoid contact with wild and stray animals to prevent getting bitten and possibly contracting rabies."

Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Infected animals spread rabies through their saliva. People and unvaccinated animals can be infected by a rabid animal from a bite or if the saliva gets into the eyes, nose, mouth or a break in the skin. Rabies nearly always causes death if treatment is not started soon after exposure. However, with prompt treatment, rabies infection can be prevented.

Wild animals -- especially bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes -- are more likely than pets to be infected with rabies because of the widespread vaccination of pet cats, dogs and ferrets.

To prevent rabies:

  • Never handle wild or stray animals, even young or injured ones.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
  • If wild animals appear on your property, bring children and household pets indoors and allow the intruders to wander away on their own. Alert neighbors who are outside.
  • Avoid handling bats. If you find a bat in your house, safely capture it and contact your local health department. Staff there will tell you how to submit the bat for rabies testing and assess your need for preventive treatment.
  • To learn to catch a bat safely, go to www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/ and click on the "Catch the Bat" video link on the left side of the page.
  • Prevent bats, raccoons and other wild animals from entering homes or spaces where people and pets may be present.
  • If you are bitten by a wild or stray animal, wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water and contact your health care provider and local health department immediately. If the animal can be captured without your having further contact with it, it can be evaluated for rabies. If the animal does not have rabies, you will not need preventive treatment.
  • Keep your pet cats, dogs and ferrets up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Don't leave your pets outside alone or let them roam free.

More information on rabies is available on the State Health Department's Web site at www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/