Brooklyn’s first rabid raccoon discovered

Brooklyn’s first ever rabid raccoon has been discovered in Boerum Hill, health officials confirmed this week.

The animal was captured in the vicinity of State and Nevins streets and euthanized. Analysis of brain tissue confirmed the presence of rabies on Feb. 12, according to the city’s Department of Health.

Dr. Sally Slavinski, assistant director of the Health Department’s Zoonotic, Influenza and Vector Borne Disease Unit, told this paper that the animal in question was displaying unusual behavior; specifically, it was “interacting with someone’s dog.” The dog owner called 911, and the raccoon ultimately found its way to city health labs.

Slavinski said the agency is planning to enhance its raccoon surveillance in Brooklyn, looking for additional animals that appear sick or dead, and determine the full extent of the problem. “Right now, it’s an isolated incident,” Slavinski said, adding that the agency does not yet know if the disease is persistent in the borough’s raccoon population.

The diseased raccoon is the first found in Brooklyn since raccoon rabies, a variant of the rabies virus, first appeared in the city in 1992, the doctor said.

According to the agency, rabid raccoons are a relatively common occurrence in the Bronx, and many were found in Staten Island in 2006 and 2007. The Health Department announced this week that it is planning to vaccinate raccoons in and around Central Park against rabies after a recent surge in reports of the potentially-diseased animals.

People and unvaccinated animals can acquire rabies, most often from a bite by an infected animal, leading to a severe brain disease that causes death unless prompt treatment is offered promptly.

There has not been a human case of rabies in the city since 1953, and the last case of a rabid animal found in Brooklyn was in 2008, when a diseased bat was identified.

Slavinski said local residents should “always be concerned with any encounter with a raccoon,” but urged the public not to overreact. The presence of rabies in a local animal population simply means that “people need to be much more aware of their encounters and never engage a raccoon,” the doctor said. “We feel it’s important to respect wildlife.”

Bob Ipcar, a steering committee member of the canine advocacy group FIDO in Prospect Park said he and his members are on high alert. “We are concerned not only for the dogs that belong to our organization but also for our neighborhood backyard dogs, who have a good possibility that they will encounter a rabid raccoon,” he said. “If their shots are not up to date, they will be a big danger to their family.”

Ipcar wondered how many more rabid raccoons are calling the borough home. “There could be more,” he said.

To reduce the risk of rabies, one should avoid all wild animals, as well as any animal that seems sick, disoriented or unusually placid or aggressive. Report such animals by calling 311. Animals that have attacked or may attack should be reported to 911. Any bite or scratch from a raccoon, or other animal capable of transmitting rabies, requires medical attention, the agency stated. For more information about rabies in New York City, visit www.nyc.gov/health/rabies.

The ASPCA has a mobile clinic that gives rabies shots to people who are also getting their pets spayed or neutered. It is free to those you can prove financial need (on public assistant or living in public housing); otherwise, it is $99 for the surgery, vaccinations and a nail trim. According to the calendar on their Web site, www.aspca.org/aspca-nyc/mobileclinic/, the ASPCA mobile clinic will be at Grand Army Plaza on Feb. 27, 2010, starting at 7 am.