Press-Republican

January 28, 2013

Rabies still active in North Country

By JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Rabies continues to show a presence in Clinton County as two more rabid raccoons from the Peru area have been confirmed.

The first raccoon was identified in late December in the hamlet of Peru near Peru Central School. The second was found earlier this month on Calkins Road.

“Both raccoons were walking around in daylight and appeared to be obviously sick,” said Rita Mitchell of the Clinton County Health Department’s Environmental Division. “There was no reported exposure to people or domestic animals.”

In both cases, the animals were captured, dispatched and sent to the State Lab in Albany for testing, where results confirmed that they were indeed rabid.

RECENT INFECTIONS

Mitchell said it’s not that unusual to find rabid animals at this time of winter.

“Raccoons do tend to disperse in late fall and move into other areas.

“Most of the time, these animals hibernate at this time of year, so you tend to believe they are not in their normal cycle when you see them walking around,” she added.

The incubation period for rabies to become active in a mammal is usually just a few weeks, Mitchell noted, suggesting that the two most recent raccoons became infected later in the year.

2012 CASES

Two rabid skunks were identified in November 2012: one in AuSable and the second on Jabez Allen Road in Peru.

A skunk and raccoon from AuSable were also confirmed rabid earlier in 2012, and one bat from Chazy was confirmed rabid last July.

In 2012, Essex County reported 14 cases of rabid raccoons, along with two skunks and one woodchuck.

Franklin County has reported no cases of rabid animals in 2012.

MONITORING

The major culprit for these cases is a strain of the rabies virus that is predominantly carried by raccoons, though it can be spread to other mammals, including cats, dogs and humans.

It is the same rabies strain that has impacted the entire northeastern United States, though Clinton County has been comparatively free of rabies because of an aggressive wildlife-immunization program the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has been conducting as a pilot study for the past several years.

“They will use this kind of data (from rabid animals) to modify the bait program,” Mitchell said of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to distribute baited vaccines during the late summer to immunize the raccoon population.

SPARING HEARTACHE

The Health Department continues to stress the need for pet owners to vaccinate their cats, dogs and ferrets.

If a vaccinated animal is bitten by a wild animal, the pet simply needs to receive a booster shot.

However, if the pet is unvaccinated, it will have to be destroyed or put in confinement for a six-month period.

“Everyone needs to vaccinate their pets,” Mitchell said. “It’s the best thing they can do to protect their pets and themselves from rabies and save them from major heartache.”

People who are potentially exposed to the rabies virus can receive post-exposure shots, which have proven to be extremely successful, Mitchell noted, but there is no approved post-exposure shots for animals.

Mitchell also suggests that people who spend a lot of time with livestock, such as horses and animals they may be showing for 4-H and other programs, should vaccinate those animals against rabies.

The Clinton County Health Department will hold rabies-vaccine clinics over the next couple of months but does not have a specific schedule yet.

Essex County also holds public rabies-vaccine clinics throughout the year. Times and locations are updated on the department’s website.

Email Jeff Meyers: jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

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REDUCE RABIES

Here are suggestions from health officials to reduce the potential for rabies:

▶ Vaccinate pets against rabies immediately.

▶ Report animal bites to your local health department.

▶ Report all contact with bats to your local health department.

▶ Spay or neuter your pets to decrease undesirable behavior and reduce the number of unwanted animals.

▶ Secure all garbage in containers that prevent access by wild animals.

▶ Do not feed wildlife or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home. Feed pets indoors.

▶ Use caution around wild animals. Talk to children about not approaching wildlife and to tell an adult if they see a wild animal.

▶ Do not leave puppies, kittens and other small pets outdoors, even in a fenced area.

▶ If your pet fights with a wild animal, put gloves on before handling the pet. Call your vet or health department for advice.