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Rabies In and Around NYC

One year ago, it was announced that rabies in raccoons had been officially eliminated in Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties. This was due in large part to an innovative vaccine-laden bait trial that immunized raccoon populations. However, while Long Island may be experiencing a brief respite from rabid raccoons, other New York communities are still feeling apprehensive and anxious.

This past summer, Westchester County’s Department of Health issued a rabies alert to residents who may have encountered a rabid stray cat on Mount Kisko. Additional alerts included sightings of other outwardly (and uncharacteristically) aggressive raccoons and skunks wandering around the county. In fact, Westchester County ranks Number 1 in New York State in rabies cases for the second straight year.

Why the high incidence of rabies in Westchester County? Although the jury is still out on this issue, many researchers point to both logic and environmental reasons. Westchester County claims a large human population, a population that boats multiple backyards with numerous garbage cans. Such a combination proves very attractive to raccoons and skunks and offers a perpetual invitation for both healthy and unhealthy wildlife to graze.

Moreover, unlike in Suffolk County where rabies has been brought under control by local aggressive efforts, Westchester County still suffers from a lack of designated resources for rabies control. While some money has been set aside to cover volunteer trapping costs, it is not foreseeable that the expansive trapping program developed for Manhattan in 2010 would be implemented. The Manhattan program was based on a trap-vaccinate-release (TVR) program conducted throughout Central Park. Baited cages lured raccoons inside and, once trapped; the animals were assessed for injury/illness, euthanized if unhealthy, or tagged and vaccinated if healthy. By April, Central Park noticed a marked decline in reports of rabid raccoons and continued surveillance has indicated that the incidence of rabies has been effectively controlled.

Because annual use of TVR is unlikely and there still remain counties such as Westchester that are unable to effectively control the spread of rabies, prevention and caution continue to be the community’s best method of avoiding the disease. When outside, dogs should be leashed and children should be taught to avoid wildlife and stray animals. Remember the importance of pet vaccinations and to regularly schedule your pet’s yearly immunizations with Dr. Manning and hs staff at Long Island City Veterinary Center. If rabies exposure does occur, call your local Department of Health and your personal health care provider immediately.

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