Health Advisory: State Department of Health Reminds New Yorkers to Protect Themselves Against Rabies

ALBANY (June 19, 2015 - The New York State Department of Health (DOH) is reminding New Yorkers to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against rabies exposure from stray and wild animals.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is most often seen among wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can become infected. Pets and livestock can get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them against infection. Reptiles (such as lizards and snakes), amphibians (like frogs), birds, fish and insects do not get or carry rabies.

The first sign of rabies is usually a change in an animal's behavior. It may become excited or irritable and attack anything in its path. Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth, unusual sounds and paralysis may also be seen. Animals usually die within one week after showing symptoms.

People are usually exposed to the rabies virus when an infected animal bites them, or if saliva from a rabid animal enters an open cut or mucous membrane (eyes, nose or mouth). If a human becomes infected, flu like symptoms will appear and progress into delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive. Fortunately, only a few human cases are reported each year in the United States because infection can be prevented if treatment is given immediately after exposure to a rabid animal.

In order to protect themselves against rabies, DOH recommends that New Yorkers:

  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance. Don't feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats. If you see an animal that is sick, injured or orphaned, call an animal control officer or wildlife rehabilitator. Do not handle the animal yourself.
  • Be sure your pet dogs, cats and ferrets as well as horses and valuable livestock animals are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccination protects pets if they are exposed to rabid animals. Pets too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors and allowed outside only under direct observation.
  • Keep family pets indoors at night. Don't leave them outside unattended or let them roam free.
  • Don't attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored bird seed or other foods that may attract wild animals. Feed pets indoors. Tightly cap or put away garbage cans. Board up any openings to your attic, basement, porch or garage. Cap your chimney with screens.
  • If nuisance wild animals are living in parts of your home, consult with a nuisance wildlife control expert about having them removed. You can find wildlife control experts, who work on a fee-for-service basis, in your telephone directory under pest control.
  • Teach children not to touch any animal they do not know and to tell an adult immediately if they are bitten by any animal.
  • If a wild animal is on your property, let it wander away. Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside. You may contact a nuisance wildlife control expert who will remove the animal for a fee.
  • Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your county health department. If possible, do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies.

County health departments across the state sponsor pet vaccination clinics. To find one near you, call your county health department or visit

For more information on rabies and how to protect yourself and family, visit:

For more information about the Rabies Laboratory at the Wadsworth Center, and for rabies tracking data, visit: