Warm weather brings increased risk of rabies

OSWEGO – Now that the warmer weather has arrived in Oswego County, animals are more active in the wild and reports of rabies will start to increase in rural areas, villages and city neighborhoods.

The rabies virus can infect any mammal, including dogs, cats, livestock, wildlife, and humans.

The vast majority of rabies cases occur with wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes.

The virus affects the central nervous system, causing paralysis and ultimately death in infected animals.

There were five confirmed cases of rabies in Oswego County, involving one raccoon, one sheep, one cat and two bats, in 2014.

The Oswego County Health Department’s environmental division investigates cases of possible rabies exposure and sponsors rabies vaccinations clinics around Oswego County during the spring, summer and fall months.

While the majority of rabies cases involve wild animals, keeping vaccinations current on dogs and cats, including indoor cats, is crucial to prevention, said Jiancheng Huang, Oswego County Public Health Director.

“Pets can act as a bridge between a rabid wild animal and person, acquiring the virus through a bite and then bringing the virus into the household,” he explained.

In 2014 the county health department received more than 800 phone inquiries regarding rabies and submitted 102 animals for rabies testing to the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratories.

The county health department vaccinated 3,209 animals at eight rabies vaccination clinics last year.

Symptoms of rabies include changes in animal behavior, including aggression and agitation, a wild animal behaving passively or appearing to be tame, and excessive salivation.

“It is not at all uncommon to hear of a rabid animal, usually a fox or raccoon, sitting in an area and acting unusually tame, like the family dog,” said Huang.

Bats are common carriers

Bats are typically the most common carriers of rabies in Oswego County, and bats found indoors present a significant risk to people and pets. If a bat is found near a sleeping person, young child, or anyone with mental incapacitation, call the County Health Department immediately.

“Bats have such small teeth that their bite can go unnoticed, and people have died from rabies from undetected bat bites,” said Huang. “Determining an animal’s rabies status is essential when there is contact between a potentially rabid animal and a person or pet.”

If there is any question about contact between the bat and people or pets, the bat needs to be captured and saved for testing.

Those who need help capturing a bat should call the county health department at 349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3564, or the city animal control officers in Oswego, phone 343-1803 or Fulton, phone 598-4504.

After capturing a bat, Oswego County residents should contact the county health department to determine if there was an exposure and if treatment is warranted.

Determining rabies status can help avoid unnecessary treatment of people and pets.

If an unvaccinated pet, such as an indoor cat, comes in contact with a bat that tests positive for rabies, or if the bat isn’t captured and it can’t be determined if the pet was exposed to a rabid bat, the pet must be euthanized or be quarantined for six months.

If the bat is not successfully captured, the county health department should be contacted along with a health care provider to consider the possible need for rabies treatment.

A video demonstrating how to capture a bat in one’s home is posted on the New York State Department of Health Web site at http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/

Prevention tips

Prevention and avoidance are important when dealing with wildlife.  Raccoons and skunks are attracted to developed areas and neighborhoods, where they find food sources in garages, compost, gardens, bird feed and pet food.

Skunks are particularly fond of white lawn grubs, the larvae of Japanese beetles.

Animals also take advantage of man-made shelters such as crawl spaces under garden sheds or decks, with raccoons frequently denning in chimneys and attics that are not capped or sealed.

By eliminating artificial food sources and shelter, the chances of encountering raccoons around your home and yard will be greatly reduced.

To help prevent the spread of rabies, people should:

– Keep pets under direct supervision in a yard or on a leash to minimize contact with wild animals.

– Keep a safe distance from wildlife such as skunks, bats, raccoons, and foxes.

– Keep garbage cans and other food sources such as pet food covered.

– Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home.  Do not try to nurse sick or injured animals — call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, nuisance wildlife control officer, or animal control officer.

– Teach children never to approach unfamiliar dogs, cats, or wildlife, even if they appear friendly.

– Report animals that are acting strangely to your local dog or animal control officer or local health agency.

– Treat any animal bites with soap and water and contact your health care provider immediately.

– Use caution with a pet you suspect may have been in a fight with a wild animal. Handle with gloves and contact a veterinarian.

– Bat proof your home by repairing screens, vents, and other areas where bats may gain access.

Oswego County clinic schedule

The Oswego County Health Department will conduct rabies clinics at these locations this spring, summer and fall:

West Monroe: June 3, 6 to 8 p.m., Town Highway Garage, 46 County Route 11.
Williamstown: July 8, 6 to 8 p.m., Williamstown Volunteer Fire Department, State Route 13. (Note change in location.)
Volney: Aug. 5, 6 to 8 p.m., Bristol Hill Landfill, state Route 3.
Granby: Sept. 9, 6 to 8 p.m., Town Highway Garage, 820 County Route 8. (New location.)
Pulaski: Oct. 7, 6 to 8 p.m., County Highway Garage, 957 Centerville Road.
Scriba: Nov. 4, 6 to 8 p.m., County Highway Garage, 31 Schaad Drive.

Contact the health department

If an animal inflicts a bite or scratch, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 15 minutes and call your health care provider and the County Health Department at 349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3564.

In an emergency during evenings, weekends or holidays, call the County Health Department’s on-call service at 341-0086.

Additional information regarding rabies prevention is available at http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/rabies/fact_sheet.htm