Rabies Alert: Don't Touch Wild Animals!

For Immediate Release: May 26, 2006
Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – The Vermont Department of Health is reminding people not to feed or touch wild animals after three cases were reported this month involving five raccoons who were illegally taken in as pets and had to be tested for rabies.

The animals were killed and tested negative for rabies at the Health Department laboratory. Last year in Vermont, 59 animals tested positive for rabies, including 37 raccoons. Twenty-seven animals have tested positive in 2006, including 18 raccoons.

“The best prevention is to avoid exposure,” said Nancy Carey, a wildlife rehabilitator from the Pine Haven Refuge in Underhill, Vt. “Stay away from wild or stray animals and be sure to vaccinate your pets. Call the rabies hotline, or your local police dispatcher who will contact a game warden to assist you.”

The rabies hotline number is: 1-800-4 RABIES (800-472-2437).

Carey can rehabilitate raccoons, skunks, foxes and woodchucks if the animals have not been handled by people. The animals can be cared for at the refuge until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild. Once the animals are taken in as pets and improperly handled, and people are either bitten or exposed to saliva, the potential for rabies exposure necessitates a test for the disease.

The test for rabies is taken from a tissue sample from the animal’s brain that cannot be extracted while the animal is still alive.

“It is against the law to possess wild animals, and wild animals that have been handled by people cannot be watched for 10 days like domestic animals to rule out rabies,” said Dr. Robert Johnson, state veterinarian for the Vermont Department of Health. “You simply should not take in a wild animal and hope to adopt it as a pet. Common sense is one of the best defenses against rabies.”

A recent case involved contact with a raccoon that would not move for an oncoming car, which led the driver to fear for the safety of the animal.

“If the animal is in harm’s way and needs to be moved, do it without direct contact by wearing gloves or even using the floor-mat in your car – anything except your hands,” Carey said. “Then call the hotline and find out who can respond to the animal’s need. Don’t take it home.”

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