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Tompkins health officials warn residents about rabies after two skunk attacks

The Tompkins County Health Department is urging residents to be aware of, and avoid contact with wildlife after reports of two skunks approaching or following people.

There have been two reported bites on October 18th, in the blocks between North Cayuga, Park Place, Cascadilla Street, and West Court Street in downtown Ithaca. Skunks can travel up to a mile while foraging for food.

The Health Department is trying to locate a person reported to have been bitten this morning on North Plain Street, Ithaca. She is described as middle aged or older, wearing a long, hooded sweater, carrying a backpack. She approached the skunk, attempting to pet or feed the skunk and was bitten at that time. The skunk then proceeded to follow her for a short period of time. The resident who saw the bite urged the woman to contact the Health Department and seek medical care. If you have been bitten by a skunk, please contact the Health Department to discuss treatment.

Healthy skunks can be observed out during the day, foraging, but should not approach humans. If a skunk is approached, it may do short lunges, stomp, and show their hind end to scare off a person or animal before spraying them. If a person approaches them quickly or ignores the warnings, they may bite and/or spray. Do not attempt to pet or feed a skunk. Skunks that are fed lose their fear of humans and are more likely to approach humans, resulting in bites.

Rabies is normally transmitted by the bite of a wild or domestic rabid mammal. The incubation period for rabies is generally one to three months. Exposures can also occur if saliva from a rabid animal enters the body through a mucous membrane, a wound that bled within 24 hours prior to the exposure, or an older wound showing signs of a bacterial infection. Do not handle pets or objects that may be contaminated with saliva from a potentially rabid animal without wearing protective gloves. Wash your hands immediately with soap and water if you do touch the saliva. Remember that a cut incurred while skinning a rabid mammal could also result in rabies transmission, as nervous tissue of an infected animal will carry the virus.

The Health Department reminds everyone to:

  1. Avoid contact with any unfamiliar cats or dogs and any wild animals.
  2. All cats, dogs and ferrets must have initial rabies vaccinations administered no later than four months of age. Keep vaccinations current!
  3. Report the following incidents to the Tompkins County Health Department at 607-274-6688:
    • All animal bites or scratches. If you are bitten by cat or dog, be sure to obtain owner’s contact information.
    • Any human or pet contact with saliva or other potentially infectious material (brain tissue, spinal tissue, or cerebro-spinal fluid) of wild animals or any animal suspected of having rabies.
    • All bat bites, scratches, or any mere skin contact with a bat, or a bat in a room with a child, or sleeping or impaired person.