Chautauqua County health officials reported Friday that two people have had to be treated for rabies exposure after they were bitten recently by bats carrying the disease.
In addition, Steven Johnson, director of Environmental Health Services, said a cat had to be euthanized because it had been bitten by a third bat and was not vaccinated against rabies.
According to Johnson, the two people were referred to the hospital for the series of inoculations. The incidents occurred in the Village of Lakewood and the towns of Chautauqua and Sinclairville.
Johnson pointed out that residents should be cautious of bats because they are potential carriers of rabies, but not to be overly alarmed.
"Certainly, people should stay away from them and keep their pets away from them as much as possible," he said. "It's important to have pets vaccinated because they can come into contact with bats."
Still, Johnson said the good news is there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in "terrestrial" animals, such as raccoons, foxes, opossums and other wild animals so far this year. He credited the health department's wildlife vaccination bait drops in recent years -- last year's in particular -- for that.
He added that the department's animal rabies clinics held in several municipalities have been a major factor. Johnson said that last year, 2,773 dogs and 2,310 cats were vaccinated in those programs. In addition, he noted the department in 2000 investigated 479 animal bites and incident reports, and submitted 115 animal specimens for testing. Of those specimens, four raccoons tested positive for rabies.
Johnson reminded the public not to handle sick or "orphaned" wildlife. He said the disease begins to attack the central nervous system of the victim once it has suffered a bite from an infected animal.
"That's . . . when an animal might exhibit uncharacteristic behavior. It may become very aggressive, or may become very docile -- and that's in the later stages of the disease in a raccoon," noted Johnson. "It's also when it gets into the salivary system, and it can be transmitted most easily to other animals."
Finally, he pointed out that unvaccinated pets that come into contact with rabid animals, or are bitten by one, may have to be destroyed, and their owners may be subject to a fine of $200 to $500.
For more information, residents are urged to contact the Chautauqua County Health Department in Mayville at 753-4481, in Jamestown at 661-8110, or in Dunkirk at 366-8831.