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The Cayuga County Health Department has reported a rise in local diagnosed rabies cases.

In the past month, the department received laboratory confirmation of two rabid cats and rabid skunks that exposed people to the rabies virus, the department said in a news release. Rabies, a viral disease, can be contracted through a bite from a rabid animal or its saliva. It is fatal and cannot be cured once symptoms start, the health department said.

The department asked that people avoid contacting wild animals, "especially those that appear friendly, and unknown dogs and cats." Anyone bitten by a mammal is asked to call the department. The department will arrange for "sending the animal to the laboratory for testing, confining a biting pet to ensure the pet does not have rabies, or referring the bitten person to obtain post-exposure treatment."

The department recommends people make regular veterinarian visits with their pet and keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats and ferrets.

The department also noted that most of the people who die from rabies in the United States receive it from bats. People can prevent bats from entering their homes by plugging holes in areas such as a basement, garage or attic with steel wool, caulking cracks and openings and fixing window screen holes with wire mesh.

If there was any chance that contact happened between a person and a bat in a house, the bat should be captured and sent for rabies testing, the news release said.  The health department noted that the bat should not be crushed, as that could make it untestable, and captured bats should be stored in a cool area — frozen, if possible. People should then call the health department at (315) 253-1560.

Further information on rabies prevention can be found at cayugacounty.us/health or cdc.gov/rabies.

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