Modified: July 18, 2019 8:58am
From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale R. Burstein
CONTACT: Kara Kane, Public Information Officer
Phone: (716) 858-4941
EXPOSURE TO RABIES VIRUS PUTS HUMAN LIVES AT RISK
Erie County Department of Health investigates hundreds of animal encounters each year, recommends post-exposure vaccine for many
ERIE COUNTY, NY— The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) investigates more than 3,000 cases of potential rabies exposure from domestic pets and wild animals each year. With warmer summer weather and more people spending time outside, there are more reports from Erie County residents of encounters with potentially rabid creatures.
“When humans are exposed to the saliva or nerve tissue of any warm-blooded animal, as with a bite that breaks the skin, our Department investigates and makes a recommendation as to whether or not post-exposure treatment is needed,” said Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale R. Burstein. “If the animal can be sent for testing, we can confirm or rule out rabies exposure. If we can’t confirm that the animal is negative for rabies, we may refer those cases for post-exposure prophylaxis.”
“Post-exposure prophylaxis” is a series of four or five doses of rabies vaccine along with immunoglobulin that, when given in time, is a highly effective way to prevent an individual from developing rabies. The rabies virus is 100% fatal to humans if a post-exposure treatment is not given, is not given correctly or is given too late. “It is crucial for anyone in Erie County who touches a wild mammal or is bitten by any animal to call our Department of Environmental Health at (716) 961-6800,” explained Dr. Burstein. “Once we investigate, if a vaccine is needed we make sure the exposed person can receive it, regardless of ability to pay.”
In 2018, ECDOH recommended post exposure rabies treatment to 504 people, with most reports coming in during the warmer months. While there is no such thing as a typical rabies exposure, the Division of Epidemiology does see patterns in some of the cases it investigates. “Bats are always assumed to be rabid, so if someone discovers a bat in their house that could have been near an unattended child, a sleeping person, or someone with a sensory or mental impairment, that is considered a contact and should be reported to the ECDOH at (716) 961-6800,” said Dr. Burstein. “Capture the bat if it is possible; we have instructions and a link to a video on our web site on how to catch a bat safely. As long as the bat’s head is not damaged, it can be tested for rabies.”
Raccoons, foxes and skunks are also presumed to have rabies in New York State. Any mammal can carry and transmit rabies. In Erie County, woodchuck, cats, cattle, sheep, deer, beavers and a dog have been found to have rabies in the past three decades.
People who have frequent contact with warm-blooded animal saliva or bodily fluids, such as those who work in veterinary clinics, animal grooming or agriculture should talk to their health care provider about pre-exposure vaccination as a precaution.
Dogs, cats and domestic ferrets four months of age and older are required to be vaccinated against rabies in Erie County. Three more free rabies vaccination clinics are scheduled for 2019 on September 11 at ECC South, September 18 at ECC North and September 25 at the Cheektowaga Highway Garage.
Erie County Department of Health, Rabies: http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=rabies-information
Erie County Department of Health, Bats: http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=bats
New York State Department of Health, How to Capture a Bat Safely (video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YhnV5WJQBA
Erie County Free Rabies Vaccination Clinics: http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=free-rabies-vaccination-clinics-0
Erie County Department of Health Division of Epidemiology: http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=epidemiology-amp-disease-control