Over the past three years, reported rabies cases have spiked in Essex County.
From no positive reported cases in 2010 to 16 in 2012, the spread of the animal-borne disease has made its way into the Champlain Valley.
State Public Health veterinarian Bryan Cherry spoke about the issue with members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors during its Jan. 28 ways and means committee meeting.
“Northern Essex County has one of the highest concentrations of raccoon cases around the state,” Cherry said. “Seeing that much in the area can be concerning and we need to look at what can be done.”
Jay Supervisor and board chairman Randy Douglas said that several of the reported cases happened within his township, with a majority of the 16 confirmed positives having been captured near the Essex-Clinton County border.
“It is a major issue in our town. We had a skunk running down the road weird just a little while ago, and it was around Holy Name School and we had to call in a trapper so the kids could get out of the doors and to the bus,” Douglas said. “Instead of setting up a bait border so the raccoons and rabid animals cannot get into Canada, we should be doing something in Essex County.”
“We have spent a lot of time working and vaccinating in Essex County, but the focus has shifted by the federal government, and I do not want to talk for them, to making sure that the barrier remains in effect and they have so many resources so they moved where they were doing the bait drops,” Cherry said.
In 2010, there were four confirmed positive rabies cases, two in Washington County and two in Warren County. In 2011, there were seven positives in Essex County and three in Clinton County (near the Essex County Border). All of the Essex County positives were found near Lake Champlain.
The 16 cases in Essex County in 2012 were largerly found near the border with Clinton County, which also had three positive cases.
Cherry said that the key to stopping the spread of rabies was to limit contact with them.
“They will come and intact with people and pets,” he said. “They will come for your trash and they will come for your barbecue. That can lead to more and more chance of rabies getting spread because people interact with the raccoons because they’re a cute animal and this leads to increasing the raccoon population.”
Cherry said that all pet owners should vaccinate their animals, and people should not feed animals that are not theirs.
“Don't feed the animals. Do not feed the feral cat population. Feeding those animals means you are going to feed the raccoon population as well and if they are eating that food, then they are not eating the bait,” he said.
Cherry also said that people should report any contact that they have with animals they feel could pose a threat as soon as possible and should also try to bring the animal to public health, using bats as an example.
“Most treatments have to do with bats,” he said. “If they find a bat in their home, they need to catch it and get it to the public health department. What people do instead is call a few days later and say that there was a bat in the house and we were told to call. Were they exposed to rabies? Probably not, but we have to recommend rabies treatments because they do not have the animal.”
Cherry said that in the fight against rabies, Essex County had one of the best allies in the state.
“The Essex County Health Department has been extremely vigilant in their awareness and education on the matter,” he said. “They have been on top of this and have been very active with the community.”