Health officials are urging residents to be aware of the signs of rabies after the fatal disease managed to infect livestock in Central New York.

Rabid Cow in Lee Center

Utica Police
Utica Police

The Oneida County Health Department announced a rabid cow was reported in Lee Center, NY. No further information about whether or not the cow was part of a larger herd.

At this time, it is unknown how the cow contracted the virus.

The animal was transported to  the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center for testing, where it tested positive for the fatal virus.

The health department said the cow exposed two people to rabies and the individuals had to undergo post exposure prophylaxis.

Officials are urging residents to recognize the signs of a potential rabies infection to prevent the disease from spreading. The warning comes amid a rise of rabid animal reports across Central and Upstate New York.

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


Recently, the Herkimer County Health Department confirmed a skunk tested positive for rabies in the Town of Lichfield. The animal was found dead in the same area where multiple dead skunks were discovered.

Before that, a rabid fox was shot by a resident after it attacked four people around the Mohawk River and Black River Boulevard area.

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 in various animal species, officials are urging pet owners to make sure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations and for everyone to recognize the signs of a potential rabies infection.

Signs of rabies include:
• Animal acting strangely
• Animal acting mad
• Animal acting shy
• The animal may get unusually close
• Drooling or foaming from the mouth

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.

If a human is bitten by a rabid animal, they will need to undergo post exposure prophylaxis - which is administered through various shots at the bite site.

How Rabies Spreads

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

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

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.

The virus is transmitted via an infected animal's saliva or tissue from its brain or nervous system.

The Oneida County Health Department warned:

If you see an animal, wild or stray, do not approach it and stay away. If despite your best efforts you are bit by the animal, or have come into contact with the animal’s saliva, seek medical attention and contact the Oneida County Health Department to determine next steps. Rabies is a deadly disease and if you become exposed, it is vital to get appropriate care to avoid contracting rabies. 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 is mandatory. Owners found in violation of this mandate can be fined up to $200.

The Oneida County Health Department hosts rabies vaccination clinics across the area and will hold a clinic on Monday, March 25, at the J.F. Kennedy Civic Arena, 500 W. Embargo St. in Rome. The event will be held between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET.

You can click HERE for more information about upcoming rabies clinics.

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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