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RIDOH, RIDEM Warn of Possible Rabies Exposure at Westerly Store

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are warning the public of possible exposure to rabies after an animal bit several customers at a Walmart in Westerly (258 Post Road) on July 4 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Anyone who may have had any physical contact with a small black mammal (possibly a ferret, mink, or weasel) while inside the Westerly store, or in the immediate vicinity, should contact RIDOH for an assessment. During normal business hours, call 222-2577. Outside of normal business hours, call 272-5952.

At least two people were reportedly bitten by the animal. Neither has come forward to seek treatment. Because the animal was not tested, state officials are operating under the assumption that it could have rabies. The two individuals who were bitten, and others who may have had contact with the animal, are at risk of rabies exposure and should be evaluated.

Once symptoms appear, rabies is fatal in people and in animals. Rabies immunization must be started as soon as possible after exposure.

The public is reminded to always:

Make sure all pet dogs, cats, and ferrets are up to date on rabies vaccinations (as is required by Rhode Island law). Avoid all contact with stray, wild, or free-roaming domestic animals, and avoid feeding these animals. Avoid feeding pets outdoors, as this will attract other animals (this is especially dangerous when feeding groups of free-roaming cats). Protect pets by controlling them (Dogs should be walked on leashes and kept in fenced yards. Do not let pets wander unsupervised). Report all animal bites to local city or town animal control officers. Securely cover all garbage cans so wild animals cannot scavenge for food.

For more information, visit www.health.ri.gov/diseases/rabies.

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