HUDSON — The Columbia County Department of Health is warning residents to be cautious after the number of raccoons that tested positively for rabies has doubled from this time last year.
“In the past nine weeks, six out of seven raccoons have tested positive for rabies with one test pending,” Environmental Health Director Ed Coons with the Columbia County Department of Health said in a statement Friday.
That is up from three cases reported this time last year, Coons said Monday.
“These incidents are happening all over the county,” Coons said.
The rabies virus usually spreads through an animal bite and from the saliva of an infected animal. The animal usually dies within 10 days of exposure to the virus. The virus is rarely spread to humans, but poses a danger to pets that spend time outdoors, Coons said.
The county Department of Health has seen an increase in calls from residents reporting rabid animals in recent weeks as the weather has warmed up, Coons said. The number of rabies cases largely depends on the raccoon population, Coons said. This year, the population has increased, possibly due to the milder winter, and so has the number of rabies cases, Coons said.
“Once you get a high-enough population, the virus kind of runs through that population quickly during breeding season, which was in February,” Coons said.
Fortunately, no cases of people contracting the virus have been reported, Coons said.
“We have had no positive cases in the county or New York state lately,” Coons said. “The last person in New York to contract rabies didn’t even contract it here. He was bitten in India.”
About two weeks ago, two people in the Ghent area were tested after they had contact with saliva from a rabid raccoon that chased a small dog, Coons said. The people were medically treated and the dog, which had been vaccinated, was fine, and received a booster shot as a precaution, Coons said.
In another case, a rabid raccoon attempted to enter a man’s home just outside Valatie and another rabid raccoon entered a garage in a home in East Chatham, Coons said.
People who see a possible rabid animal should contact local police, Coons said. Any potential rabies exposure to any wild or stray animal should be reported to the Columbia County Health Department.
“The public is also reminded not to handle, capture or attempt to confine any wild animals,” according to the county Department of Health. “Not only does attempting to handle wild animals pose a health risk, it is illegal under New York state law.”
The biggest risk is to pets that spend time outdoors, Coons said.
“If your domestic pet comes into contact with any of these animals, please handle your pet using gloves and follow up with good hand-washing practices,” Coons said.
Each year, the county Department of Health offers seven free rabies vaccination clinics for county residents who own cats, dogs and ferrets.
The next free clinic will be held at the Germantown Community Building, Palatine Park Road, on April 13 from 10 a.m. to noon; cats and ferrets will be vaccinated from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.; dogs will be vaccinated from 11 a.m. to noon by Dr. Elaine Tucker.
Dates and times for rabies clinics are available on the Columbia County Department of Health website at www.columbiacountynyhealth.com or by calling the Health Department at (518)828-3358.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.
Editor's note: A correction to this article was made regarding the two people in Ghent who had contact with a raccoon's saliva. They were medically treated, not tested.