Health officials are urging residents to avoid feral cats after a feline tested positive for rabies - sparking fears of a possible outbreak that could spread to other animals.

A situation appears to be going from bad to worse after a feral cat contracted the fatal disease.

Village Braces for Potential Rabies Outbreak

The Otsego County Department of Health is putting the residents of Cherry Valley on high alert because they say it's very likely rabies is spreading among a feral cat colony that has already proven hard to trap.

The cats frequent the Montgomery Street area and health officials are urging nearby residents to not feed or handle any wild cats until the situation is under control.



Kim Schlosser, the assistant public health director from the Otsego County Health Department, told WKTV:

If there’s one rabid cat, like I said, cats lick each other, cats bite each other; that’s how rabies is spread. So, especially from mothers to babies, and…there’s a high chance that there’s more.

The Susquehanna SPCA administered the rabies test on the feral cat and confirmed the diagnosis.

Those who have interacted with these animals are urged to call their office in Cooperstown at 607-547-4230 or, if after hours, 607-547-1697.

Those who have had contact with a feral cat's saliva, such as through biting or licking, should receive post-exposure prophylaxis as soon as possible to prevent a possible infection from taking hold.

The treatment is administered through a series of shots, with a vaccine distributed on day 1, 3, 7, and 14.

If a rabies infection does become established in a person, there is no effective treatment and death is likely to follow.

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.

Rabies on the rise in New York

This comes shortly after Herkimer County Public Health issued a warning to residents to stay away from wild animals after a raccoon tested positive for rabies in the town of Schuyler. It should be noted a skunk in Utica also tested positive for the disease around the same time.

In August, four kittens tested positive for rabies in Rome and exposed nine people to the viral disease.

Read More: Kittens Expose 9 People to Rabies in Central New York

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.

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

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

Madison County Department of Health's Aaron Lazzara warned, "We are seeing more rabid animals this year 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.

Read More: Rabid Fox Bites Elderly Woman & 2 Kids in Upstate New York

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.

The disease is fatal, which is why officials stress the importance of vaccinating your pets against rabies and teaching young children to never play with unknown animals either wild or domestic.

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

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.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

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.

Residents of Otsego County can take advantage of a free rabies vaccination clinic on Thursday, December 7, at Hartwick Seminary Fire Department.

Appointments aren't necessary. Those who may have questions can contact the Susquehanna SPCA at 607-547-8111 ext. 111.

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