Last December a dog and two people were victims of a rabid raccoon attack. Thankfully, none of those involved developed any signs of rabies, a neurological disease that hasn't’t infected a person in New York State since 1953.
The first reports of rabies affecting animals occurred in 1992. At that point the disease was restricted to bats, skunks and raccoons in the Bronx and parts of Staten Island. Before the December attacks, Manhattan was for the most part rabies free.
Since raccoons have no natural predators on the island of Manhattan, the population is growing and so is the likelihood of the disease spreading.
In response to the attacks the City Health Department launched an aggressive campaign to curb the number of raccoon related rabies incidents.
According to a City Health Department spokesperson the department and the United States Department of Agriculture implemented a trap, vaccinate and release program. Traps were set in and around Central Park, Morningside Park and Riverside Park. Trapped raccoons were given a rabies vaccine and an ear tag before being re-released in the same location.
The program has trapped 237 raccoons between February 16 and April 9. The city continues to perform tests on raccoons that are sick, injured or dead. In addition, any trapped raccoons with evidence of a bite wound will also be tested. Due to the neurological nature of the disease the rabies testing requires euthanasia of the animal.
The program seems to have done its job. There have been no rabid raccoons found in Central Park for over three weeks. This was down a considerable amount from the 11 raccoons the department captured weekly in March and April.
There have also been no attacks on animals or people.
The City is planning on working on a second round of raccoon vaccinations in August. The aim of this round is to vaccinate the baby raccoons born in the spring.
Traps will be placed in remote parts of the park to keep people and pets from interacting with caged animals. The cages display instructions on what to do and contact in case of an emergency.
The Health Department, along with the Central Park Conservancy and the Parks Department have also begun a campaign to raise people’s awareness by distributing signs and flyers in the Central Park and Morningside Park areas.
The Health Department keeps track of the amount of rabies infect animals throughout the city, to see if any sightings have occurred in your neighborhood click here.
The Health Department reminds people to stay away from wild animals. Raccoons, skunks, bats, stray dogs and cats can carry rabies, and New Yorkers should report incidents and sightings of these animals to 311. Dog owners are advised to keep their animals leashed and away from possible contact with raccoons and other wild animals.