Rabies continues to be an issue in Central New York, which is raising health and safety concerns.

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Another rabid animal in CNY

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

The Herkimer County Health Department confirmed a skunk tested positive for rabies in the Town of Lichfield. The skunk was found deceased and it was found in a familiar spot known to health officials.

"It was sent to Wadsworth State Labs by a NYS DEC officer, after multiple skunks had been found dead in the same area," the press release said. A positive rabies result was returned within a few days.

Health officials note that with warmer weather approaching, it is likely the area will see more wild animals out in the open. That has residents wondering if this will also be a bad year for rabies.

According to the National Library of Medicine, New York does confirm higher number of rabies cases than other states. Of the 3,663 rabid animals reported across the United States in 2021, 6.5% of all reports came from New York.

Only North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas had more cases.

Rabies on the rise in New York

The incident comes shortly after a fox attacked four people around the Mohawk River and Black River Boulevard area. The animal was dispatched by a private resident and the fox tested positively for rabies.

Read More: Fox That Attacked Multiple People in Rome Confirmed Rabid

Prior to that, raccoons in Holland Patent and in Utica, as well as a skunk in Remsen tested positive for the fatal disease. Additionally, officials in Cherry Valley warned of a potential rabies outbreak after a feral cat from a large colony tested positive for the disease.

Amid this apparent spike in confirmed cases, officials are urging pet owners to make sure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations.

If an unvaccinated pet is bitten by a rabid animal, it will have to be euthanized immediately. There is also no USDA-licensed treatment or cure for rabies in unvaccinated domestic animals.

Rabies Clinic in Clark Mills, NY
Roah Seelam, AFP, Getty Images

As previously stated by Madison County Department of Health's Aaron Lazzara, health officials "are seeing more rabid animals... than the last two years combined."

Skunks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and bats make up the majority of rabies cases in the United States. The disease is also capable of infecting horses, ferrets, cattle and other warm-blooded animals.

How Rabies Spreads

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wildlife accounts for over 90 percent of all reported rabies cases.

Signs and symptoms of the disease include drooling or foaming from the mouth, abnormal or aggressive behavior, paralysis, seizures, difficulty swallowing, and self-mutilation.

Fox in yard in Mohawk Valley. (Photo by Bill Keeler / WIBX)
Fox in yard in Mohawk Valley. (Photo by Bill Keeler / WIBX)

The virus is transmitted via an infected animal's saliva or tissue from its brain or nervous system. Rabies is contracted through direct contact, such as a bite.

The Oneida County Health Department warned:

If you see an animal, wild or stray, with these signs, do not approach it and stay away. If any animal is acting strangely, call your local animal control officer for help. If you are concerned you may have been exposed to a rabid animal or find a bat in your home, call Oneida County Health Department for guidance.

Unfortunately, wild or unvaccinated animals that contract the fatal disease need to be humanely euthanized since there is no cure for rabies. Once an animal begins showing signs and symptoms of the virus, it kills them within days.

Additionally, testing can only be done on a deceased animal, as brain matter is the only way to accurately test for an infection. Tests on saliva or blood will not yield results.

What's New York's law on rabies vaccines?

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

New York mandates all pet owners vaccinate their dogs, cats, and ferrets by the time they're 4-months old. Even if you have an indoor only pet, vaccinating it will protect your animal if it ever slips outside.

Lazzara noted that vaccinating your pets does more than protect them against the virus. "We never want anyone to have to make a decision to euthanize an unvaccinated family pet that came in contact with a rabid animal," he said.

The Oneida County Health Department hosts rabies vaccination clinics across the area and will soon release its clinic schedule for 2024.

What to Do If You're Exposed to Rabies


Those who had contact with a potentially rabid animal have to receive post-exposure prophylaxis as soon as possible. The treatment is administered through a series of shots, with a vaccine distributed on day 1, 3, 7, and 14.

Mount Sinai says those exposed to a rabid animal have at least up to 14 days to receive post-exposure prophylaxis. If a rabies infection does become established in a person, there is no effective treatment and death is likely to follow.

The best way to keep you and your family safe from rabies exposure is to vaccinate your pets against the virus, teach young children to never play with unknown animals either wild or domestic, and to keep your distance from wild animals that are behaving out of character.


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