If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then the Nassau County Department of Health, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Health, Cornell University and several other agencies, wants to ensure that raccoon rabies does not spread in eight South Shore communities close to the city, which has reported a handful of cases over the past three years.
From Sept. 19 to 23, vaccine packets scented with raccoon bait will be distributed in the animal’s natural habitats in Atlantic Beach, Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Inwood, Lawrence, Long Beach, Valley Stream and Woodmere, weather permitting, county officials said.
The packets will be put in woods, bushes, streambeds, sewers and other areas that are popular with raccoons. The bait’s scent attracts the animals, and they are immunized against rabies when they eat the contents of the vaccine packets.
“Because of the threat to wildlife and domestic animals from rabies, action needs to be taken quickly to prevent rabies from becoming endemic in Nassau County,” said Mary Ellen Laurain, a spokeswoman for the county Health Department.
Raccoons are common throughout the county, but rabies is not. In March, a raccoon tested positive for rabies; eight raccoon rabies cases were reported in the southern portion of Brooklyn between 2012 and 2015; and the virus has been detected in previous years, Laurain said.
“Rabies continues to be confirmed in New York City, which presents a threat of eastward advance into Nassau County,” she said.
Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of raccoons and other mammals, including humans. It is typically transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The disease is generally fatal once signs of infection appear. Laurain said that the wildlife vaccination program will reduce the chance of human and domestic animal contact with rabid animals.
People who see raccoons should not try to trap the animals themselves; a licensed trapper should be called, county officials said. To avoid possible contact with the packets, parents are advised to supervise their children’s outdoor activities during the week of distribution and the week afterward, and to keep dogs and cats inside or on leashes during both weeks. This will allow time for raccoons to eat the vaccine-laden bait and reduce the chances that pets will find it. The bait isn’t harmful to dogs or cats, but they could vomit after eating a large number of them. Don’t try to remove a packet from an animal’s mouth.
The county’s Office of Emergency Management was tasked with informing the communities involved. Officials from two Five Towns municipalities said they would help inform residents.
“We will coordinate with the county to get the word out,” said Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock. “We will spread the information through our email blasts, website and social media. I will also notify synagogues and churches in the village so they can inform their congregants.”
“It is very commendable what the county is doing,” said Lawrence Mayor Alex Edelman. “We will do our best to advise our residents about what is being done.”