The number of rabies cases in St. Lawrence County continues to rise, as does the number of human exposures, but Public Health officials believe the escalating cost of providing post-exposure immunizations primarily will be covered by health insurance rather than the government.
Through September, there were 28 cases of rabies found in wild animals, mostly raccoons. In 2011, by comparison, there were four cases; in 2012, six cases.
The number of animals positive for rabies has increased from an average of 4.2 percent of those submitted for testing over the last three years to a positive rate of 23 percent through mid-September this year.
The county Public Health Department budgeted $100,000 for rabies control this year. In July, the county Board of Legislators increased that amount by $45,000. Interim Public Health Director Lorraine B. Kourofsky recently received initial approval from legislators to boost up the budget for this year by another $60,000 to pay for medical supplies and expenses.
There were 32 incidents of human exposure through mid-September this year compared with an average of 25 per year over the past three years.
Although health insurance providers previously have denied benefits for post-exposure rabies shots, Public Health officials said they have become more insistent on reimbursement. The cost of the vaccine used in treatment has increased 21.55 percent since 2010 and the cost of the immunoglobulin used in the vaccine has gone up 53.87 percent in the same period.
Almost all of the positive rabies cases fall along the border of the St. Lawrence River, from Morristown to Massena, and eastward to the middle part of the county, from Gouverneur to Brasher. There also was a case in Edwards and one in Parishville.
Vaccine-laced bait has been dropped to try to immunize susceptible wild animals. This years drop, following successes in Canada, changes from a fishmeal base to marshmallow, believed to be more palatable to animals, Ms. Kourofsky said.
Officials are urging pet owners to have their dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated.
You need to take care of the family, including the family animals, Ms. Kourofsky said. We would like to have everyone make a real good effort to have their animals vaccinated.
More than 100 pets were vaccinated in Gouverneur on Thursday at a clinic sponsored through a special grant procured by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
Remaining rabies clinics in St. Lawrence County will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Ogdensburg Fire Department and from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Lisbon Fire Department.
Jefferson County has confirmed five cases of rabies. To fight spread of the disease, Mrs. Ritchie will host three additional clinics in Jefferson County from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 16 in the Adams village barn, Oct. 23 in the town of LeRay highway barn and Oct. 30 at the Alexandria Bay Fire Department.