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New York City Seal
Press Release
NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Office of Public Affairs
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Steven Herman
Tuesday, July 9, 2002
(212) 788-5290
(877) 640-1347


With the summer season underway, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH today advised New Yorkers to avoid wild or stray animals that can carry rabies. Wild animals (e.g., skunks, raccoons and bats) behaving abnormally - such as attempting to interact with or attack pets, stumbling, or acting disoriented - should be reported to the local police precinct or the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC) Animal Rescue at (718) 649-8600.

Dr. Frieden said, "While there has not been a human case of rabies in New York City in more than 50 years, New Yorkers should take precautions to ensure that children and pets avoid wild animals such as raccoons, bats and skunks - especially those that may be exhibiting abnormal behavior. Furthermore, New Yorkers should remember to license their pets and have them vaccinated against the rabies virus."

As infected pets can pass rabies along to their owners, all New Yorkers should ensure that their pet's rabies vaccinations are current. Initial vaccinations for dogs and cats are valid for one year, and re-vaccinations are valid for one or three years, depending on the type of vaccine. Additionally, New Yorkers should leash their pets to prevent them from coming into contact with wild animals.

The number and type of rabid animals in New York City fluctuates from year to year, rising when the wild animal population in the city is higher. Since January 2002, there have been 12 laboratory-confirmed cases of rabies reported in wild animals in New York City. In 2001, there were 38 animal cases of rabies, the majority of which were found in the Bronx. The vast majority of the animals infected in 2001 were raccoons, but other animals such as skunks, bats, and opossums also have tested positive for rabies. In 2001, a cat from Brooklyn tested positive for rabies.

Calendar Year2002* 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993 1992
Number of Laboratory Confirmed
Animal Rabies Cases
*Through July 1, 2002

Information About Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It can be transmitted from an infected animal to other animals or humans through a bite, scratch, or saliva contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. Symptoms normally appear between three weeks and eight weeks after exposure. Early symptoms include irritability, headache, muscle aches, and fever. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium, and death.

Exposure of a person to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. However, untreated cases will always result in death. Treatment of a possible rabies exposure requires prompt washing of the wound area with soap and copious amounts of water, followed by the administration of rabies immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine administered into the arm muscles on days 0, 3, 7, 14 and 28 after exposure.

If you are bitten by a wild animal, you should contact your medical provider immediately. Also, if possible try to keep track of the animal's location to facilitate possible pick-up for rabies testing. If a domestic animal bites you, try to get the owner and animal's information so that the animal may be monitored for signs of rabies. Fortunately, only a few cases of human rabies are reported each year in the United States, and there has not been a case of human rabies in New York City in over 50 years.

To report wild animals, including raccoons, that display unusual behavior, such as approaching people during daylight hours, New Yorkers can call the CACC at (718) 649-8600. All animal bites should be reported to the Department's Veterinary Public Health Services at (212) 676-BITE (212-676-2483), or after hours, to the New York City Poison Control Center at (212) POISONS (212-764-7667).

For more information about rabies, please visit the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Web site at