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Sep 08

Let's Talk About Rabies

Posted on September 8, 2023 at 10:26 AM by Hannah Commins

We all know rabies is dangerous, but have you ever wondered why? Rabies is a preventable viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals. When affected, the disease moves to the brain and will eventually lead to death. The majority of rabies cases are typically found in wild animals such as bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes, but the virus can be passed to any mammal. We work extra hard here at the Environmental Health Division to make sure our community members and pets are safe and protected when it comes to rabies. 

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In the Environmental health division, all of our Public Health Sanitarians are trained in handling rabies incidents and potential rabies exposures. We handle hundreds of incidents a year, with summer being our busiest time, sometimes dealing with multiple incidents a day. If someone is bitten by a dog or cat, we set up a 10 day confinement with the owner in their home. This allows us to keep the pet away from other people and any more potential exposures. After 10 days we verify the pet is alive and well, and then notify the victim to let them know there is no chance of transmittal of rabies to them. If unvaccinated pets have contact with a wild animal we will set up a 6 month quarantine in the owners home, and check in on the animal each month. When a human has been bitten by a wild animal, we will send the animal in for testing if available. If the animal is gone or untestable, the victim will receive Post Exposure Treatment. This is why it is extremely important to stay away from unknown animals (wild or domestic) and never leave food outside that can attract unwanted guests. If you have any contact with a wild animal it is always good to speak with one of our sanitarians. Always remember, rabies is preventable! 


Often times, especially during the warmer months, we deal with bats found in people’s homes. If you find a bat in your home, do not release it! If you, a family member, or your pets have been exposed we may need the bat for testing. If the bat is not available there is a chance you will be recommended for Post Exposure Treatment. If someone is receiving Post Exposure Treatment (PET) for the first time, you will likely receive a series of 4 vaccinations. Treatment is given at days 0, 3, 7, and 14, so you will have to make a few trips over the course of 2 weeks. This is why we always recommend capturing the bat!


When it comes to preventing rabies, we also provide free rabies vaccination clinics at various points throughout the year. One of the best and easiest ways to keep you and your beloved pets protected is to keep them up to date on their rabies vaccinations. This is super important, not only for the animals, but the humans too! At our last rabies vaccination clinic in July, we vaccinated 139 cats, dogs, and ferrets. Be sure to follow our Facebook page and the Cortland County website for updates on upcoming rabies vaccination clinics.