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The Putnam County Health Department is issuing an alert to residents about the danger of rabies and providing advice about avoiding potential exposures.
“When the warm weather arrives, people enjoy the outdoors in greater numbers. That’s when the Health Department sees an increase in potential exposures and that is why we continue to emphasize the importance of avoiding contact with all wild animals,” said Marianne Burdick, associate public health sanitarian, who supervises the rabies control program at the Health Department. “Newborn animals typically born in the spring are certainly cute, but they should be avoided, too.”
Domestic pets are not the only animals that can get rabies. All mammals are at risk of infection. Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes are the most likely to carry the disease and transmit it to pets or humans.
Burdick said last year the Health Department investigated more than 350 cases of potential rabies exposures. Most exposures and treatments in Putnam come from bats, dogs and stray or feral cats, which can also carry the rabies virus and infect humans through their saliva.
“People are well-meaning, but ‘rescue’ is usually not necessary and can in fact be harmful to the animal ultimately,” Burdick said. “Most babies found alone are waiting for their parents to return to them with food. If the person tries to help and is scratched or bitten, then the animal must be caught and euthanized to be tested for the virus. This is the only way for the person to avoid rabies treatment, typically a series of more than four intramuscular shots, over 21 days.”
Burdick explained if an animal appears injured or in need of assistance, the best plan is to call a wildlife rehabilitator, noting the New York State Department of Conservation provides wildlife health information online and a database to search for local wildlife rehabilitators, depending on what type of animal is in question.
“Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is nearly 100% fatal,” Putnam interim Health Commissioner Michael Nesheiwat, MD said. “Fortunately, disease and death are completely preventable when people who have been exposed to rabies promptly receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.”
One of the best prevention techniques is to vaccinate pets against rabies. The Putnam County Department of Health offers three free clinics throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for Saturday, March 25, in the upper park of Veteran’s Memorial Park, at 201 Gipsy Trail Road in Carmel.
Residents with dogs, cats, and ferrets are encouraged to bring their pets and a photo ID as proof of residency, along with the pet’s certificate of proof of prior rabies vaccination (tags are not acceptable). Pets without prior vaccination must receive a one-year shot rather than a three-year vaccination, according to NYS law.
Residents who are scratched or bitten by a wild animal or domestic pet after hours or on the weekend should call as soon as possible to ensure a prompt assessment and treatment, if needed. The after-hours environmental health hotline can be reached at 845-808-1390, extension 3. For more information, visit the county website at www.putnamcountyny.com.
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/