When you think about health and wildlife, what comes to mind? Likely, Lyme disease comes first—and rightly so. With more than 4,000 cases statewide last year, New York remains a nationwide hotspot. Ticks carry pathogens for other illnesses, too, such as babesiosis, ehrlichiosis (granulocytic anaplasmosis), and cat-scratch fever. If you’re still naïve about tick-transmitted diseases, ’tis the season to learn!
Next on your list might be rabies. New York State often tops rabid animal counts nationwide, but human cases are rare. Rather than fear our furry friends, keep the facts in mind. Only mammals carry rabies—mostly raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes (and unvaccinated domestic mammals). People usually get rabies through a rabid animal’s bite or scratch, or, very rarely, if animal saliva gets into an existing, fresh cut or in the person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Of the country’s roughly two dozen cases of human rabies since 1990 (three in New York State), most were from bats, usually with no known contact (genetic analysis later confirmed a bat source). Bottom line: Keep doors and windows closed or screened from dusk to dawn when bats are active, and don’t handle bats, ever. Be aware that, worldwide, rabies is common among dogs, and responsible for thousands of human deaths annually, so consult the Centers for Disease Control (www.CDC.gov) if you plan to travel abroad.
If you’re a fishing buff, health advisories about pollution-contaminated fish now apply to 150 of the state’s waters. Women of childbearing years and children under the age of 15 are especially advised to avoid or rarely eat fish from these waters. Swimming in contaminated water is also a health risk. For a complete list of tainted waterways, and for updated warnings, visit the New York State Department of Health website (www.health.state.ny.us/environmental).
Mosquito-borne West Nile virus is still on the watch list. Last year, 46 people in the state were diagnosed with it (mostly in Nassau County and New York City), and six died. However, health experts believe that only a fifth of people who contact the virus will develop symptoms, which are usually mild, and only 1.5 percent of infected people are at risk of dangerous encephalitis or death.
What about Hanta virus from rodents? Human cases are very rare and typically follow exposure to large amounts of mouse feces and urine while cleaning out nesting areas. For safety during clean up, don gloves and a mask and don’t sweep; use damp rags to clean and disinfect instead. If you need to trap rodents, use capture-and-release or snap traps; shun torturous glue traps, which kill by starvation over days. Then seal all possible rodent reentry sites—it’s up to you to keep critters out!
A variety of health advisories and information is available through the New York State Department of Health, www.nyhealth.gov.