The news that a rabid raccoon was found in Stamford recently is a good reminder to be careful out there, and to take precautions.
Rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the CDC each year occur in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain that leads to death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort, the CDC said. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of those symptoms.
Rabies was once a feared killer of domestic animals and has decimated wild animal populations, especially raccoons, in this area in recent decades.
Vaccines have helped protect domestic animals. Farmers can feel better about the safety of their livestock, and families need not fear that a beloved pet will have to be euthanized because of an encounter with infected wildlife.
That assumes, of course, that the animal is vaccinated — a requirement for licensing of dogs under state law and also the law for cats and ferrets, which do not require licensing.
Delaware County officials said last week three people and a dog were exposed to the rabies virus. All three people are being treated. The dog was up-to-date with its rabies vaccinations and has received a booster.
Those people were prepared for their dog’s meet-up with the raccoon. Good for them.
According to information from Delaware County Public Health, vaccination of pets and other animals is the best preventive measure available. Vaccinations should be kept current.
Veterinarians can administer the vaccine, but, for those concerned about the cost, local departments of health conduct free rabies clinics throughout the summer. Call your local department of health or check its website for upcoming clinics.
In addition to vaccination, Public Health recommends the following precautions:
• Report any sick or strange-acting wildlife;
• Do not feed wildlife or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home;
• Do not feed strays. According to Public Health Law, an owner is defined as any person keeping, harboring or having charge or control of or permitting any dog, cat or domesticated ferret to remain on or be lodged or fed within such person’s house yard or premises;
• Do not approach an unknown animal, either wild or domestic, especially if it is acting in a strange or unusual manner;
• Report all animal bites and any contact with bats to the Health Department in your county. Human rabies can be prevented after exposure by administering a series of shots;
• Keep garbage cans tightly covered and avoid storing any food outside;
• Children should be instructed to tell an adult immediately if they were bitten or scratched by any animal;
• If an unvaccinated pet comes in contact with rabid or suspected rabies the pet must be quarantined for six months;
• Vaccinated pets that come in contact with rabid or suspected rabies animal must be given a booster rabies vaccination within five days of the contact.