Local health officials are warning they've seen an increase in bite marks from wild animals that can spread a potentially fatal virus to humans or pets.

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As outdoor activity increases with the warm weather, the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community (DBCH) reminded residents on Monday to be cautious and avoid interaction with wildlife, as many animals carry rabies.

Officials add the warm weather increases the risk of being exposed to rabies.

If left untreated, rabies is fatal in animals and humans, officials say. Dutchess County health officials report a slight increase in bite reports in 2021, compared to 2020.

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of mammals and is most often seen in bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. The virus is spread through the saliva and nervous tissue of rabid animals. People and animals are usually exposed to rabies through a bite from an infected animal. Exposure can occur if the saliva or nervous tissue of a rabid animal enters an open wound or mucous membrane (such as the eyes, nose, or mouth).

Residents who see an animal acting strangely, and no humans or pets have come in contact with it, are advised to contact their local police agency. If a person has been bitten, or a domestic pet or livestock is bitten or is in contact with any animal acting wildly, contact health officials immediately.

Bats, in particular, are concern when they make their way into homes. While bats are gentle and not aggressive, a small percentage of bats may be infected with rabies. Due to their small size, bats can easily squeeze into very small gaps (1/2 inch), such as in between the upper and lower window sashes, roof eaves, attic fans and vent openings. When a bat is found inside a building, it must be determined if there has been a potential exposure to pets or people. Since the small teeth of a bat can make a bat bite difficult to detect, the presence of a bat in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, or an intoxicated or mentally compromised person is considered a possible exposure to rabies.

Risk of exposure can be greatly reduced, and rabies can be prevented following these guidelines:

  • Avoid contact with wild animals such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, woodchucks/groundhogs, and bats.
  • Do not approach or handle domestic animals that you do not know, including stray dogs and cats.
  • Do not attempt to handle or capture sick or orphaned wildlife.
  • Keep home and yard free of food and other debris that may attract wild animals.
  • Secure and seal all window unit air conditioners to ensure no gaps exist on the sides and bottom of the unit for bats to crawl through. Seal the space between the upper and lower window sashes with foam, fabric, or other suitable material.
  • Be sure all windows and doors have secure and intact screens to keep bats from entering.
  • Make sure chimney dampers are closed when not in use. Seal all unused openings from the house into the chimney so bats cannot enter.
  • Keep access points to attics, garages, and basements closed and secure.
  • Keep garage door closed when possible.

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