The Big Apple is staring down a problem it hasn’t seen in roughly eight years: rabid raccoons in Manhattan.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Friday that officials have identified four raccoons with rabies around Inwood Hill Park since the start of the year. The health department is now advising residents in the area to make sure that pets are up to date with vaccinations.
“Rabies is a serious illness that poses a danger for you and your pets,” Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in a statement. “Keep a close eye on your pets when you take them outside and if you see a wild animal—such as a raccoon—maintain a safe distance and do not approach it. Get your pets vaccinated against rabies, and if you think they’ve been bitten by a rabid animal, call 311.”
While the officials have reported the rare rabid bat on the island in recent years, there haven’t been any reports of rabid raccoons on the island since 2011, when the city reported finding well over 100 rabid raccoons during the prior year. While they’ve been reported in neighboring boroughs, the city’s trap-and-release effort at the time led to the vaccination of roughly 500 of Manhattan’s raccoons and has managed to keep the issue under control since.
People as well as pets can become infected with rabies, and it can be fatal if not immediately treated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that symptoms in humans can mirror those of the flu, including headache, fever, and weakness. During the last outbreak, which began in 2009, five people and two dogs were exposed to rabies (though they were treated, and rabies developed in neither the people nor the animals).
The health department advises New Yorkers to call the city’s non-emergency line in the event that they suspect an animal is sick or if it seems “disoriented or unusually placid or aggressive.” It also advises that pets be fed indoors and that animals not be left outside without supervision. Dog parks are safe, the health department said, but animals should otherwise be kept on leashes while outside.
In a statement, Senator Robert Jackson—who represents Manhattan’s 31st District—urged residents of the island with pets “to make sure their animals are up to date on their vaccines. Stay alert when enjoying our beautiful parks, and if you see a wild animal acting strangely, leave the area and call 311.”