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Rabies is on the rise in St. Lawrence County

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CANTON — A growing number of rabies cases, many of them involving human contact, has caused St. Lawrence County to spend already the entire yearly budget for its control program.

“They’re all over the county,” county Public Health Director Susan J. Hathaway said. “We’re trying to get people to act in a responsible manner. Keep your pets vaccinated. Stay away from wild animals. If an animal is acting strangely, stay away.”

Public Health budgeted $100,000 for rabies control for this year, but Ms. Hathaway has asked legislators to increase that amount by $45,000.

The program includes human post-exposure rabies immunizations and vaccinations for animals to prevent the disease. The cost of the vaccine used in treatment has increased 21.6 percent since 2010, and the cost of other treatment has gone up 53.87 percent since 2010.

So far this year, there have been 18 incidents of exposure, compared with an average of 25 per year over the past three years. The number of people receiving treatment for rabies exposure is 19 for the first half of this year. Over the past three years, the number of human exposure cases has averaged 34 per year.

Most of the $45,000 in additional funds is for medical supplies and expenses to treat human exposure.

The number of submitted animals testing positive for the disease has increased from an average of 4.2 percent over the last three years to 23 percent so far in 2013.

“It’s a really bad year,” Ms. Hathaway said.

Animals that tested positive for rabies this year have included two bats, two skunks and 14 raccoons.

The increase in people taking post-exposure shots is due to several reasons.

People sometimes release the suspect animal or kill it in a way that its brain cannot be tested, or one of their unvaccinated pets tangles with a rabid animal.

“So often the suspect animal can’t be found,” Ms. Hathaway said.

When in doubt about exposure, the shots must be given.

“If you get rabies, you die,” Ms. Hathaway said.

Help could be on the way.

St. Lawrence County traditionally has been part of a bait drop aimed at curbing the spread of the disease in wildlife, and this year’s program — expected to take place at the end of August — is improved and could be more effective, Ms. Hathaway said.

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