North Providence Couple was Exposed to a Rabid Raccoon

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) are announcing that a North Providence couple was exposed to rabies by feeding a raccoon that later was tested and found to be carrying the rabies virus. DEM reminds the public that feeding wild animals is illegal and can often lead to unintended problems including the possible transmission of diseases. DEM urges Rhode Islanders never to intentionally feed wildlife.

On Aug. 31 an Environmental Police Officer (EPO) with DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement responded to a call placed from North Providence. Upon arriving, the EPO spoke with the couple and observed that the raccoon was an adult that had an injured foot and trouble balancing. The EPO euthanized the raccoon. On Sept. 1 he submitted it to RIDOH State Health Laboratories, which confirmed it positive for rabies Sept. 2.

Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal that infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death, according to RIDOH. There has not been a human case of rabies in Rhode Island since 1940. However, the raccoon-adapted strain of the rabies virus is widely found in the wild animal population throughout Rhode Island. Animals with the greatest susceptibility to this strain are raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats, and woodchucks. These mammals are known as high-risk “target species.” Unimmunized pets and stray cats, dogs, and ferrets (low-risk animals) can acquire rabies through exposure to high-risk animals.

“Situations like this highlight the reason why people should keep a safe distance, and keep their pets and livestock a safe distance, from wild animals,” said State Veterinarian and chairman of the RI Rabies Control Board Scott Marshall, DVM. “Any contact with a wild mammal is a potential rabies exposure that may necessitate a person undergoing rabies preventive treatment, or the animal being euthanized to test for rabies, both of which can be avoided by simply keeping a safe distance.”

Any Rhode Islander who believes they may have been exposed to a rabid animal should call RIDOH’s Center for Acute Infectious Disease Epidemiology at 401-222-2577 (Monday-Friday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or 401-276-8046 after hours for treatment guidance. Practical advice on coexisting with wildlife may be found here.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Rabies treatment must be started as soon as possible after exposure. The disease’s incubation period is long, variable, and unpredictable.

All dogs, cats and ferrets are required by state law to have current vaccination against rabies. Vaccination of pets prevents them from contracting rabies and prevents people from becoming exposed to rabies through their pets.

RIDOH and DEM make the following recommendations to prevent rabies:

Make sure all dogs, cats, and ferrets are up to date on rabies vaccinations.
Avoid all contact with and do not feed stray or free-roaming domestic animals.
Avoid all contact with and do not feed wild animals.
Do not feed your animals outdoors, as this will attract other animals. This is especially dangerous when feeding large numbers of free-roaming cats.
Protect your pets by always maintaining control; walk dogs on a leash or let them play in a fenced yard, and do not let pets wander unsupervised.
Report all animal bites to your city/town’s animal control officer.
Securely cover all garbage cans so wild animals cannot scavenge for food.