In-Depth: Protecting pets and people from rabies

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Brighton Police and Animal Control continue to set traps in a neighborhood where a rabies-infected fox bit six people over the weekend. Those who were bitten are getting a series of treatments to ensure they don’t contract rabies. 

The rabid fox was trapped and euthanized, but neighbors say it ran with at least one other adult and a number of kits. They’re concerned that those animals could be infected and still roaming the neighborhood. 

The Monroe County Department of Public Health thinks it has been in contact with everyone who was bitten by or came in direct contact with the infected fox but it’s possible said fox interacted with other animals or pets and so they’re asking people who live in the area of Hollyvale Drive and Tilston Place in Brighton to be on alert. 

“This is rarely seen here, I mean I haven’t seen any cases like this in the 6 years I’ve been here,” says Dr. Emil Lesho, an infectious disease expert at Rochester Regional Health. Dr. Lesho treats people who have been exposed to rabies. 

Most rabies cases in the United States are associated with dog-bites – dogs that have been bitten by a rabid animal without their owners realizing it.

“There should be little to no risk if your pet was vaccinated, as it should be against rabies. And if your pet was bit by this Fox, the rabies vaccine is very effective, that should prevent it,” Dr. Lesho says.

But if your pet hasn’t been vaccinated or you’re unsure about get bit, Dr. Lesho says start with the basics. Wash the bite out immediately with soap and water.

“If, in the unlikely event that there’s rabies virus present in that bite, then you’re doing a lot of good to get rid of it that way,” says Dr. Lesho. “Then, you need to get to an urgent care or emergency room right away. The risk of getting rabies from the wound, if there is rabies present, is related to how much wound there was, how much saliva was transferred during the bite and actually to a lesser extent, the distance from your central nervous system,” Dr. Lesho says. 

If you don’t begin a rabies vaccine treatment within seven days of the bite, you could develop rabies without even initially realizing it.

“You know with COVID, you’re normally exposed four to seven days before you see the symptoms,” explains Dr. Lesho. “But with rabies it’s long, the incubation window is a wide range, it’s anywhere from one week to one year although in most cases it’s a few months.”

Once rabies symptoms start in a human, it’s almost always fatal.

“Generally by the time the patient develops rabies, the virus is well entrenched already into the nervous system, the patient is having seizures and fevers and all kinds of stuff,” Dr. Lesho says.

The Monroe County Department of Public Health is urging anyone who came into physical contact with the fox in the Brighton area last week to consult with a healthcare provider. And, if they have not already done so, report the incident to the County’s Rabies Control Program at (585)753-5171.

For information on free rabies clinics for your pets: click here