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Chautauqua County Health Officials Urge Rabies Prevention

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services said it has seen a recent increase in potential rabies exposure to county residents and visitors.

Rabies is communicable to humans and almost always leads to death without prompt treatment. Exposure must be avoided.

Rabies is a disease of warm-blooded animals caused by a virus. Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes are the common disease carriers. The virus is transmitted to humans and other animals such as cats and dogs through saliva from an infected animal. It can enter the body from a bite, scratch, scrape or open cut. Two forms of rabies exist. An animal has “furious” rabies when it tries to attack and bite. When animals have “dumb” rabies, they are listless and sleepy and have varying degrees of paralysis.

However not all sick or aggressive acting animals carry rabies. Many symptoms of distemper are indistinguishable from, and therefore often mistaken for, the signs of rabies, which can only be determined by laboratory testing.

Fortunately, distemper is not communicable to humans; however, cats and dogs can and do contract distemper. Having pets vaccinated against rabies and distemper is the best way to protect them. New York state law requires that all dogs, cats and domesticated ferrets over the age of 4 months be vaccinated against rabies.

“A stray cat in the village of Westfield tested positive for rabies this week and could have spread the disease to other pets in that area,” said Christine Schuyler, public health director. “Therefore, it is critical that all pet owners make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.”

She added: “The County Health Department usually sponsors ten to 15 free rabies vaccination clinics each year. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has postponed these clinics. While the Health Department is planning to sponsor clinics as soon as possible, we urge all pet owners to vaccinate their pets by working with their local veterinarian.”

Rabies is transmitted to dogs and cats through contact with an infected wild animal. The following measures will help protect your family and your pets from rabies:

• keep bats out of homes and other living spaces by sealing small openings and keeping unscreened doors and windows closed.

• if people or pets may have had contact with a bat, it is important to capture the bat for testing and then contact the health department to determine whether rabies exposure could have occurred and if the bat should be tested for rabies.

• wash any animal bites and scratches immediately with soap and water and contact your health care provider immediately. Call the health department to evaluate your risk of rabies, including whether rabies post-exposure treatment is recommended.

• keep your pet’s rabies and distemper vaccinations up-to-date.

• do not feed wild or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home.

• keep garbage cans tightly covered and avoid storing any food, including pet food, outside.

• do not approach or handle any unknown wild or domestic animal. Contact the Environmental Health Unit for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators for assistance with wildlife.

• teach children to never approach any unfamiliar animal, even if the animal appears friendly, and to tell an adult immediately if they are bitten or scratched.

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