Representatives from the Montgomery County Public Health department stopped by my Amsterdam District Office recently and reminded me that May is Rabies Awareness Month.
While locally we may typically hear of only a few rabies cases in the summer time, it is still a threat. According to the State Department of Health, since 1990, some 30,000 New Yorkers have been exposed to rabies and had to receive treatment.
Rabies is currently prevalent in the wild species, particularly raccoons. According to health officials records, there were 429 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in New York State in 2003. Of that figure, 198 were raccoons. It is a fatal disease that is usually transmitted by saliva and it attacks the nervous system. It is extremely important that pet owners continue to vaccinate their animals against this deadly virus so that, if they are exposed, the pet is protected.
The State Department of Health has kept statistics on rabies cases dating back to the early 1920s and the numbers show vaccinations do help. From 1925 through 1944, the number of rabies cases per year ranged from 20 to 600. At that time, most of the cases were found in domestic dogs and there were 10 human cases in this time period. In 1945, it became mandatory for owners to have their dogs vaccinated and stray dog control measures were implemented. As a result of these efforts, from 1945 through 1959, the reports of rabies cases dropped to between 20 to 50 per year.
In 2004, according to laboratory results, there were three confirmed cases of rabies in Fulton County: a fox in Ephratah, and a raccoon and bat in Johnstown. In Montgomery County, there was a skunk in the Town of Florida and a raccoon in the Town of Mohawk that had confirmed rabies in 2004. In Saratoga County, in 2004, there were four confirmed cases of rabies in raccoons, five cases in bats and two in skunks. There were five confirmed cases of rabies in raccoons in Schenectady County in 2004 and, two cases of bats and two cases of skunks. It is important that we continue to vaccinate our pets since they can get rabies if a wild animal bites them. To know if your animal has been infected, warning signs to look for include an aggressive change in behavior, staggering, spitting, choking and sometimes frothing at the mouth. Unfortunately, there is no way to be 100 percent sure the animal has rabies until the animal is dead and the brain is examined.
If you happen to be bitten by a strange animal and the skin was broken, be sure to wash the area thoroughly and contact your doctor immediately.
Montgomery County Public Health left several informative brochures on rabies at my Amsterdam District Office. To obtain free copies of these pamphlets, call my district office at 843-2188.