Baby raccoons, foxes, and feral cats might be cute and tempting to pet, but if you come across a wild animal it
can be a danger to you, your family, and your pets! Human contact with these types of animals has already
caused Tioga County Public Health to do 19 wild animals bite investigations in the first 6 months of 2018, with an
additional 74 domestic animal investigations being done from animals with an unknown rabies vaccination
history. This had led to 20 people needing rabies treatment in Tioga County just this year!
But what is rabies? Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord of an animal that has been
exposed to the rabies virus. It is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes,
but can also infect dogs, cats, and humans. If saliva from an infected animal gets in a person’s (or animal’s skin) –
most commonly through a bite – or in their eyes, mouth, or nose, they can become infected. If bitten, the victim
should seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is almost always fatal without treatment after exposure, and
once someone begins showing symptoms of rabies, it’s too late for treatment! This is why it is so important to get
treated immediately, even if there is only a small chance you may have become infected.
Bats can also spread the rabies virus, and with over nine species living here in New York, that can pose a potential
threat! They often live in buildings during the summer, but also live in cracks in walls and under loose bark in
trees. If you wake to find a bat in the room or are bitten by a bat, wash the bite wound thoroughly with soap and
water as soon as possible and call us to report the bite/incident. Try to capture the bat, and whatever you do, do
not squish the brain – we need this for testing!
If your pet may have been exposed to rabies, please contact us and we will determine if your pet needs to get a
rabies booster or if it needs to be quarantined for observation. Remember that not all vaccines are 100%
effective. If a pet has a valid rabies certificate, there is still a small chance it could have rabies. This is why calling
us for further instruction is important.
Because rabies can spread by infected saliva or brain material from a rabid animal, even rabid dead animals must
be handled with care or not at all. If you need to touch anything that may have rabies virus on it, you must
protect yourself. Wearing gloves or other protection can help when you are doing any clean up. This assures that
you will not have to worry later that you might have gotten the virus. Also, avoid feeding animals, such as cats,
outdoors, as that can also attract potentially rabid animals. Supervising Public Health Nurse Mel Miller warns, “If
an animal looks sick, it likely is and it’s likely due to rabies, so keep your distance!”
Questions? Call Tioga County Public Health at 607-687-8600 and follow them on Facebook for more information!