A growing number of rabies cases in Essex and Clinton counties recently is a reminder to pet owners that they should be vigilant in vaccinating their cats and dogs against the deadly disease.
"Knowing that rabies is out there really means that everyone needs to consider all animals as potentially rabid, so our message hasn't changed from last year, from any year, which is that people need to leave animals alone, whenever possible, and vaccinate their pets," said Kathy Daggett, director of preventive services with Essex County.
Daggett said there have been numerous cases of terrestrial rabies found in animals in Essex County in recent years. There was one in Wilmington about four years ago and then several more the past two years in places such as Ticonderoga and Elizabethtown, among other places.
Several animals have tested positive for rabies in Clinton and Essex counties this year. Raccoons, such as the one shown here, are known to carry the deadly disease.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
In July, a raccoon was found in the town of Jay, the first of its kind in that immediate area this year. Then in August, a rabid raccoon was found in Wilmington, also the first rabid animal in that town this year.
In the village of Keeseville in Clinton County, a skunk tested positive for rabies on Oct. 2. The animal was tested after it went into a penned area and was killed by three dogs on Sept. 30.
Two of the animals that killed the skunk had been vaccinated and received booster shots while the third dog wasn't vaccinated. Because the dog had been exposed to rabies, the dog owners were required to quarantine the animal or have it euthanized. The owners decided to euthanize the dog.
The skunk was the second rabid animal found in the southern part of Clinton County recently. A raccoon in the town of Black Brook tested positive in September.
Clinton County's coordinator of health education, Laurie Williams, said these were the first rabid animals found in Clinton County in a long time.
"It's been over 15 years, and the time before that, 1969, 1970," she said. "But terrestrial rabies has been in the northeast portion of the United States for decades now. We've just been luckier here in our communities, in our counties, because of all of the attention and resources that have been directed toward (rabies)."
In Franklin County, no animals have tested positive for rabies, according to the health department. But officials there are still reminding pet owners and others to take precautions against the disease, especially now that rabies has been found in surrounding areas.
The public is advised to take the following steps to protect against rabies:
Vaccinate pets and livestock. State law requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age. Vaccinating a domestic animal not only provides protection for the animal, but vaccinated pets act as a barrier to keep the rabies virus from spreading between wild animals and people.
Vaccination is also recommended for livestock with frequent human contact, such as horses and cows.
Do not feed wildlife or stray animals, and discourage them from seeking food near homes. Keep garbage cans tightly covered and avoid storing any food outside.
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 to an animal testing positive for rabies by administering a series of shots.
Post exposure shots must be approved by local public health authorities.
Children should be instructed to tell an adult immediately if they were bitten or scratched by any wild animal.
To prevent the possible spread of the rabies virus, no one, including trappers and nuisance wildlife rehabilitators, should transport and relocate any wild animals at this time.
If an unvaccinated pet comes in contact with a rabid or suspected rabid animal, the pet must be quarantined for six months. The quarantine must be approved by local public health officials.
Vaccinated pets that come in contact with a rabid or suspected rabies animal must be given a booster rabies vaccination within five days of the contact.
All pets must be at least 3 months old to get their initial rabies vaccination, be revaccinated a year later, then at least every three years after for the rest of their life.
For more information or to report a suspected rabid animal call the Clinton County Health Department at 565-4870, Essex County Health Department at 873-3500. or Franklin County Health Department at 481-1709.