Protect yourself and your pets against rabies
In summer we spend time outdoors and are more likely to come into contact with animals, wild and domestic. This also means we are at increased risk of exposure to rabies.
Rabies is a deadly viral disease that can be transmitted from infected wildlife to other animals and people. Whenever there is a concern about potential exposure to a person or domestic animal, the Department of Health investigates to ascertain whether the risk of disease warrants post-exposure vaccination or other control measures. The investigative component of the rabies program is administered by the Environmental Health Services, and the clinical follow-up is managed by Public Health Nursing.
Given the volume of calls received by the department concerning animal contacts and the level of concern, this article will be divided into two sections: Today's article provides guidelines on how to protect yourself and your pets against rabies; next month's article will provide specific answers to the more frequently asked questions received from the public.
In this region, wild animal species potentially infected with the rabies virus include bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks. Thanks to successful vaccination programs, the disease is rare in domestic animals, even if there is contact with wildlife. Unfortunately, we are investigating a growing number of bite reports involving unvaccinated dogs, and numerous reports of unvaccinated dogs or cats coming into contact with bats or other wildlife. While there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in domestic dogs in Dutchess County for many years, we do see rabies in unvaccinated cats. If people don't vaccinate their pets, it won't be long before rabies becomes entrenched in the community.
You can protect yourself and your pets against rabies by following a few simple steps:
1. Vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies and keep vaccines current. Vaccinating pets against rabies establishes a barrier between wildlife and people; failure to do so weakens this barrier and increases your risk of exposure. New York state requires all dogs and cats be vaccinated by age 4 months. The first rabies vaccination protects for one year. Subsequent vaccinations are generally good for three years. Ask your veterinarian when vaccinations are due, as some exceptions may apply.
The Department of Health sponsors three rabies clinics per year for dogs, cats and ferrets in partnership with the Dutchess County SPCA; this service is free of charge for Dutchess County residents and $10 for non-residents. The next clinic will be held July 18 from 8 a.m. to noon at DCSPCA, 636 Violet Ave., Hyde Park. For futures dates, visit our website at www.dutchessny.gov/health or call 845- 486-3404. Other local organizations also sponsor low-cost rabies clinics throughout the year.
If an unvaccinated domestic animal has contact with a known or suspect wild rabies vector animal (bat, raccoon, fox or skunk) and the wild animal can't be tested, the domestic animal is required to endure six months quarantine or be euthanized.
2. Prevent bats from entering your house. Bats are valuable insectivores and good to have around, but since they are a rabies vector you don't want one in your house. Bats are nocturnal; during the day they prefer to sleep in a warm, dark and protected location – your home offers many such places. A bat can flatten itself out and slide through a half-inch space. Here are some guidelines to minimize this risk:
•Seal the space around window air conditioners and fans with foam, fabric, or any other suitable material. When a window is open, it creates a gap between the upper and lower sashes through which a bat can gain entry.
•Make sure screens are tight-fitting and intact.
•Keep garage and outer doors closed when not in use.
•Seal all unused openings from the house into a chimney; make sure dampers are closed.
•Tightly close access points to nonhabitable spaces, such as attics, basements and crawlspaces.
If there are repeat instances of bats in your house and you can't find an entry point, you may want to contact a nuisance wildlife control officer for assistance. These individuals are licensed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and can provide guidance and exclusion measures for a fee. For a list of nuisance wildlife control officers, please visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7005.html
3. Do not approach or touch wildlife. If a wild animal allows itself to be approached, it could be ill or injured. If you encounter such an animal, it is best that you contact a wildlife rehabilitator, a professional licensed by NYS to care for ill, orphaned or injured animals. A list of licensed rehabilitators can be accessed at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/83977.html. If a wild animal is aggressive or threatening, contact the police to evaluate the situation and take necessary action.
Rabies can be prevented if one takes proper precautions; make sure domestic animals are vaccinated, minimize exposures to wildlife, and get treatment when necessary. Contact the Dutchess County Department of Health at 845-486-3404 if you feel a person or domestic animal has been potentially exposed to rabies.
I thank James Fouts, Associate Public Health Sanitarian, for contributing to this article.
Dr. Kari Reiber is the health commissioner for the Dutchess County Department of Health.
Maribel Vasquez, the veteran technician at the shelter, said seven puppies and one adult dog were adopted during the adoption event at John's Corner—only one was left but has a chance of being adopted, too.
"It's good to see those animals being taken care of," Vasquez said.
There was another adoption event hosted at Cinergy Midland Saturday. The pets there were also kept at foster homes.