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INCIDENCE OF RACCOON RABIES SOARS IN NEW YORK STATE

Raccoon rabies shot from zero to 67 confirmed cases this year out of 218 total rabies cases statewide, but there's no need to panic, officials say.

If treated, there's no serious problem posed to humans, state Health Department officials said as they gave state Department of Environmental Conservation regional game managers a breakdown of the state rabies laboratory's findings.

"In fact," said the lab director, Charles Trimarchi, "there has not been a single human death reported during this new outbreak of eastern raccoon rabies."

One official said there is a danger.

"The raccoons' abundance here and the presence of two major state parks in our region give us a high potential for human contact," said the DEC's regional wildlife manager, Terry Moore. "It's a time bomb."

But state parks officials dispute that.

"Not one single case of rabies has been documented in any raccoon trapped in the state parks," said Thomas Lyons, principal environmental analyst for the State Office of Parks and Recreation.

"We have had several raccoon bites in Letchworth this year -- and a lot more complaints of nuisance raccoons. But we do have a (test) management plan in place there. Other parks may adopt it soon, including Allegany State Park," Lyons said.

Eight confirmed raccoon rabies cases have been reported in Allegany County outside the park so far this year.

Parks' top management has decreed that live traps will be used and the animals taken away and dispatched.

"Leg-hold traps might be more efficient," Lyons said, "but there is concern of accident or injury to pets or non-target species. Besides, significant public concern about leg-hold traps surfaced during meetings on the Letchworth problem in the fall of 1989."

Rabies is endemic in many animal populations. If bitten -- or even exposed to the saliva of a rabid animal -- a human may contract the disease. Untreated, it is fatal.

"New York has always had rabid foxes and skunks," said Trimarchi, "mostly in the North Country, where fox rabies in Ontario has its southernmost range.

"And we get rabid bats, especially in the Southern Tier. Some years we have outbreaks of both, or outbreaks of one or the other. In 1989, for instance, we had a very low total -- 54 confirmed cases of rabies, all bats."

In 1990, however, his lab confirmed 218 cases of rabies, 67 of them in raccoons. Until this year, no raccoons here were found to contain the virus.

The general rule for prevention is simple: If you see a raccoon during daylight hours, or acting "strange," ignore it. If you find a dead raccoon, leave it.

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