I spoke Tuesday with Dr. Sally Slavinski of the NYC Health Department to get the latest on the city’s response to the swiftly spreading rabies situation. I will write a more detailed post as soon as I can find time, but here is the news in a nutshell, with few details, few photos and little discussion.
As of February 10, 39 rabid raccoons have been found in Manhattan in 2010, most of them in or around Central Park. Add in 2009’s rabid raccoons, and the number is a staggering 49. (A number that makes us wonder just how large is the Central Park raccoon population – but that’s for a later post.)
One person and one dog have been bitten, and received post-exposure treatment. Another person received treatment after attempting to care for a sick raccoon. (In another post, I’ll fill you in on the latest from conspiracy theorists, who believe the city intentionally introduced rabies to justify eradicating a healthy raccoon population. Or something like that.)
So what is the city doing? On February 16th, in a multi-agency collaboration with the USDA, the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, the Department of Health began a trap-vaccinate-release program to vaccinate raccoons in Central Park against rabies.
For the next four to eight weeks, raccoons will be caught in live traps that are strategically placed in less accessible areas of the park. The animals will be vaccinated on the spot by USDA workers, given ear tags for identification, and released back into their home environment. Raccoons that appear sick will be euthanized and tested for rabies. The program will expand to include Morningside Park (two reported cases) and Riverside Park (no reported cases).
In summer 2010, a second phase of trap-vaccinate-release will be launched to vaccinate baby raccoons born this spring.
Raccoons that are already infected will die within days of showing symptoms. If we can stop the cycle of transmission through inoculation, we can, theoretically, eradicate the virus. At least, for now. And when the next rabid raccoon follows the Amtrak corridor into Manhattan, our local raccoons will already be immunized.
I checked to be sure the Department of Health had plans to immunize the five raccoons I watch in Riverside, and am happy to report that a location has already been selected for a trap.
Much more to come. But meanwhile, if you come upon a trap in the park, leave it alone. Call 311 if the trap holds a raccoon. Also call 311 if you see a raccoon that appears sick or is behaving strangely. But leave the wildlife alone.
And be sure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date.