New York health officials are urging residents to be aware and recognize the signs of rabies after four kittens tested positive in Rome.

According to the Oneida County Health Department, nine people were exposed to the viral disease.

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The individuals have since received post-exposure prophylaxis, according to the announcement.

The kittens were sent to the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center for testing on August 14 and August 15, 2023, and positive results were reported on August 15 and August 16, 2023.

Unfortunately, the kittens were humanely euthanized since there is no cure for rabies. Once an animal begins showing signs and symptoms of the virus, it kills them within days.

Rabies on the rise in New York

This comes days after officials urged pet owners to have their pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations because of the growing number of reports of wild animals infected with the disease.

Madison County Department of Health's Aaron Lazzara warned, "We are seeing more rabid animals this year than the last two years combined."

Officials have not revealed the species of the infected animals. Skunks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and bats make up the majority of rabies cases in the United States.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wildlife accounts for over 90 percent of all reported rabies cases.

Signs and symptoms of the disease include drooling or foaming from the mouth, abnormal or aggressive behavior, paralysis, seizures, difficulty swallowing, and self-mutilation.

The virus is transmitted via an infected animal's saliva or tissue from its brain or nervous system. Rabies is contracted through direct contact, such as a bite.

The Oneida County Health Department warned:

If you see an animal, wild or stray, with these signs, do not approach it and stay away. If any animal is acting strangely, call your local animal control officer for help. If you are concerned you may have been exposed to a rabid animal or find a bat in your home, call Oneida County Health Department for guidance.

The disease is always fatal, which is why officials stress the importance of vaccinating your pets against rabies. It's also the law.

What's New York's law on rabies vaccines?

New York mandates all pet owners vaccinate their dogs, cats, and ferrets by the time they're 4-months old. Even if you have an indoor only pet, vaccinating it will protect your animal if it ever slips outside.

Rabies Clinic in Clark Mills, NY
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Lazzara noted that vaccinating your pets does more than protect them against the virus. "We never want anyone to have to make a decision to euthanize an unvaccinated family pet that came in contact with a rabid animal," he said.

There are several pet rabies clinics scheduled in Central NY. The next drive will be held on August 21 at the Rome Kennedy Area between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. ET. Another will follow at the Gorman Community Center in Oneida on September 12.

Appointments are required. To secure your spot, contact the Oneida County Health Department at 315- 798-5064 or log onto our web site at ocgov.net/rabies.

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