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County's Rabies Outbreak Leads the State

MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. –  Westchester has had the most reports of rabid animals of any county in the state so far this year, health officials say.  Every day, it seems, there is another report of a rabid animal somewhere in Westchester.

Last week, it was a rabid kitten that was found in Mount Pleasant. Before that there were a string of rabies incidents reported over the past month, including a rabid skunk found in Rockefeller State Park, a rabid skunk that bit a woman in her garden in Sleepy Hollow, and a viscious rabid fox that attacked four people before running into a Briarcliff Manor family's home and spending the night trapped in their bedroom.

Caren Halbfinger, director of public health information and communication for the Westchester County Health Department, said that this level of activity is actually expected.

"There are always a lot of cases of rabies during this time of the year. June was actually determined to be rabies awareness in the State of New York," Halbfinger said. "We're trying to bring as much awareness to the public as we possibly can."

According to statistics provided by the New York State Department of Rabies Laboratory, Westchester County has reported 17 positive rabies incidents in 2011, the most in the state. This number is also far more than any other county, with the second highest being nine positive incidents in Schuyler County.

Halbfinger ensures that this is not some sort of epidemic.

"With this disease, it's not an outbreak since it's always different animals and they contract it in different ways," she said.

The most recent incident in Mount Pleasant involved a domestic cat that a resident picked up on the side of the road and brought to their home before having the animal tested. The County Department of Health warns against this sort of activity if possible. Rabies, although a fatal disease, can be treated in a person but can also become a financial burden.

"If they can avoid it, a person should never come in contact with a wild animal like that," Halbfinger said. "Because if they do then they need to be treated immediately and with the shots and everything it can become pretty expensive for health departments."

Have you seen any animals that you suspected might have rabies? Tell us in comments below or on Facebook.

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