New York City Raccoon Rabies Update
Last week, neighborhood associations in Morningside Heights, Upper West Side and Upper East Side received a new alert from the Health Department about rabid raccoons. The final numbers of rabid animals have come in for 2009, and they are not good. In December 2009 alone, ten rabid raccoons were found, eight of them above 100th Street on the west side.
In the first two weeks of 2010, the Health Department website reports another eight rabid raccoons. All but one Lenox Avenue renegade were found in Central Park. That’s 18 raccoons dead of rabies in a month and a half. Not good.
For Riverside Park raccoon lovers, the good news is that no rabid raccoons have turned up in our park. I saw three of my (well, not my, of course) raccoons last night, as they left their hole in the retaining wall. A mother, a baby and a third whose size I couldn’t determine, all looking as fat and beautiful and healthy as ever.
The bad news is that infection is probably only a matter of time.
Raccoons pass easily from the northern end of Central Park to the southern end of Morningside Park. From there, it’s no problem to make their way west through the grounds of Saint John the Divine to Amsterdam Avenue, cross the avenue to the tiny West 111th Street People’s Garden, and from there it’s only two blocks to Riverside Park and its unsuspecting raccoons.
Once inside, the park’s a long, green highway to carry the disease south.
No human or dog has been bitten. Yet. But we live crammed together on this narrow island. Something has to be done, and soon.
Elsewhere in the state, the Department of Health uses an oral rabies vaccine, distributed in small baited packages that smell like fish, to control the spread of raccoon rabies. Baited vaccine was distributed in eastern Queens in 2006. It seems increasingly likely that Manhattan will have to follow suit. Tougher to implement in Manhattan where raccoons share habitat with park-loving humans and off-leash canines. Adults would surely avoid the odoriferous bait, but would children and dogs?
I’ll continue to keep an eye on Riverside raccoons.
And, everyone, here are the Health Department recommendations: avoid contact with wildlife, keep pet vaccinations up to date, and walk your dogs on leash.
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