Health Dept. warns: ‘Keep your dog on a leash, keep your cat indoors’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a warning to Bensonhurst residents to stay away from stray animals and to safeguard their pets after a raccoon found in the neighborhood turned out to have rabies.
The raccoon was discovered on the block of 16th Avenue between 78th and 79th streets on Aug. 15 and tested positive for rabies at the Health Dept.’s public laboratory on Aug. 19, officials told the Brooklyn Eagle. The block is a heavily residential area filled mostly with one and two-family homes. New Utrecht High School is located on the next block, on 16th Avenue between 79th and 80th streets.
The raccoon died, but might have infected feral cats or kittens before its demise, Health Dept. officials said. No humans were bitten. The New York Daily News reported on Thursday that the raccoon was found by Animal Care and Control. It marks the third time this year a raccoon has been found in Brooklyn, according to the News.
The Health Dept. issued the public alert on Aug. 20.
“It’s important for members of the community to be aware that feral cats in the area have potentially been exposed to rabies, and they should avoid any contact with stray or unfamiliar animals,” officials said in a statement sent to the Eagle on Wednesday. “Residents are also reminded to immediately seek medical attention or call 311 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if they are bitten by a stray or wild animal.”
Residents should “be careful around raccoons and avoid contact, especially if the animal appears sick or is exhibiting strange behavior like difficulty walking around or standing. People should call 311 if they see a sick raccoon,” the statement read.
In an effort to inform the public, informational fliers listing the do’s and don’t’s were taped to street poles in the vicinity. The Health Dept. also reached out to local elected officials to ask them to help spread the word.
The agency is also urging residents to safeguard their pets against the threat of wild animals. “Keep your dog on a leash and keep you cat indoors,” the informational flier reads.
Residents and business owners appeared more curious than alarmed by the situation. “That’s really something. I’ve seen raccoons in the forest but never here in the city. And I’ve never seen one here on this block,” Md Ali, owner of B&D Deli and Grocery at 1601 79th St. told the Eagle. Ali said he would warn his customers to be careful of stray animals.
Down the block, a man sitting in a chair reading a newspaper outside of his house shrugged and said he wasn’t surprised by the raccoon report. “They come from the park,” he said, matter-of-factly. Dyker Beach Park is located a quarter of a mile away.
Health Dept. officials said that if a resident is bitten by a stray animal, the person should wash the wound immediately and then talk to a doctor. A resident should call 311 immediately if a pet is bitten.
A good way to protect pets is to have them vaccinated for rabies, officials said.
Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system, according to the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It is most commonly transmitted through a bite from a wild animal like a raccoon, skunk, bat or fox.
The early symptoms of rabies in people include fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. But as the disease progresses, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, partial paralysis and hallucinations may occur. The infected person also exhibits an increase in saliva and has difficulty swallowing. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms, according to the CDC.