New York State Department of Health Urges New Yorkers to Take Steps to Prevent Rabies Infections

Rabies is Rare in Humans, but Endemic in New York Wildlife

Precautions Include Avoiding Contact with Bats, Raccoons, Foxes, and Deer and Ensuring Pets are Vaccinated

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 24, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health is urging New Yorkers to take precautions to prevent rabies infections in people and pets. Rabies is a deadly disease caused by the rabies virus. The virus attacks the central nervous system and can be transmitted from infected mammals to humans and other mammals. If treatment is not provided promptly after exposure to the virus, it is almost always fatal once symptoms occur.

"Rabies is a preventable disease that fortunately is not common in people, but that does not mean we should let our guards down," State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Exposure to this deadly virus can be avoided by taking precautions, including ensuring pets are vaccinated as mandated by State law and avoiding any contact with wild animals, even those that may appear friendly."

Rabies is most commonly seen in wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, deer, groundhogs, coyotes, and bats. However, any mammal can be infected, including household pets, like dogs and cats, and other domestic animals such as horses, and livestock. The virus is transmitted by infected animals through their saliva and can infect people and animals through a bite, or if the saliva gets into the eyes, nose, mouth, or a break in the skin.

People who are exposed to rabies should wash the bite or exposure area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Treatment for rabies should be administered as soon as possible after exposure. Treatment includes a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and four doses of rabies vaccine administered over a two-week period.

Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If treatment is initiated promptly following a rabies exposure, rabies can be prevented. If a rabies exposure is not treated and a person develops clinical signs of rabies, the disease almost always results in death.

Rabid animals have been found in all counties in New York. Last year, the Department's Wadsworth Center Rabies Laboratory tested 5,463 wild and domestic animals for rabies.

The NYS Department of Health recommends the following precautions to avoid the risk of rabies infection:

  • Don't feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or feral cats.
  • Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the local county health department. If possible, do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies.
  • Be sure pet dogs, cats, and ferrets, as well as horses and other livestock animals are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccination protects pets if they are exposed to rabid animals.
  • Pets too young to be vaccinated should only be allowed outside under direct observation.
  • Keep family pets indoors at night. Don't leave them outside unattended or let them roam free.
  • Teach children not to touch any animal they do not know and to tell an adult immediately if they are bitten by any animal.
  • Keep property free of stored bird seed or other foods to avoid attracting wild animals. Also, feed pets indoors and cap garbage cans.
  • Cover any openings to the attic, basement, porch, or garage, and cap chimneys with screens.
  • Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside if wild animals enter the property.
  • Individuals who find animals living in or around parts of their home should consult a nuisance wildlife control expert about removing them.
  • The local health department should be contacted if a bat is found inside the house. They will advise on what to do with the bat.
  • Pet owners should contact the local health department or a veterinarian if their pet has been in a fight with another animal. A rabies booster vaccination may be needed.

Individuals who are concerned about the potential exposure to rabies without an obvious bite, for example from a bat being in a room with an unattended child or someone with a mental impairment, should contact their county health department immediately to discuss the situation. The list of county health agencies is available here.

Additional information about rabies is available here and here.