PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) are alerting the public that a racoon found at Bold Point Park in East Providence last week has tested positive for rabies. Because rabies is a fatal disease, anyone who may have had contact with this animal is urged to contact RIDOH as soon as possible.
The racoon was found by the Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island, a Saunderstown-based veterinary and wildlife rehabilitation practice that had responded to reports of a wounded raccoon on April 8. Bold Point Park is located on Waterfront Drive off the Veterans Memorial Parkway in East Providence. Clinic staff collected the animal, humanely euthanized it, and transported it to RIDOH's State Health Laboratories for testing, where it tested positive for rabies.
Anyone who may have had direct contact with or anyone who was walking a pet and the pet had contact with a raccoon at Bold Point Park is strongly advised to 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.
"DEM stresses that wildlife is beautiful but should always be enjoyed from afar," said RI State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall. "Never approach wild animals and certainly never touch them. This is especially important at this time of the year when many species are having babies. Baby animals are adorable and people are naturally attracted to them, but handling mammals, whether babies or not, is always a potential rabies exposure. Once people handle these animals, public health officials are compelled to test the animal for rabies, which requires that the animal be humanely euthanized because testing requires brain tissue."
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care and rabies vaccination after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can spread to the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Rabies treatment must be started as soon as possible after exposure. 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. Bats in Rhode Island also are known to be infected with the bat strain of rabies virus. Bat rabies strains are highly transmissible to humans, and preventive vaccination is often recommended for exposure by proximity even without a visible wound, if the bat is not available for testing
RIDOH and DEM make the following recommendations to prevent rabies:
- Make sure all dogs, cats, and ferrets are up to date on rabies vaccination.
- 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 pets 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.
- Bat-proof your house
For more information on how to prevent rabies, please visit RIDOH's website.
For information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.