Rabies in New York City in 2014

"You're crazy Dr. Plotnick!"
Call me crazy, but every year I like to read the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s rabies reports and see if anything has changed since the last year, or if there are any new trends.

The news is:  there was a big drop in rabies cases.  For the entire year 2014, twelve animals tested positive for rabies.  They were 10 raccoons, 1 skunk, and 1 opossum.  Six raccoons and the skunk were from Staten Island, and 4 raccoons and the opossum were from Brooklyn.   That’s a very big drop for Staten Island.  In 2013, there were 49 rabid animals reported.  Last year, it was only 7.  There were no rabid animals in Queens, for the fourth year in a row.  The Bronx almost always has one or two rabid animals reported, but in 2014, there were none reported.  That’s the first time that’s happened since 1996. 
Bats are the main vectors for transmitting rabies to humans in the U.S.  Dogs and cats are susceptible to rabies, but we hardly ever see cases, thanks to widespread vaccination programs.  In fact, there hasn’t been a rabid dog reported in NYC since 1954.   Since 1992, there have been 14 reported cases of feline rabies.  Twelve of those cats were strays.

People wonder about rodents carrying rabies, but it seems that squirrels, rats and mice do not seem to transmit rabies.  Neither do rabbits.  Groundhogs can, however.  Rabies infections in domestic rodents or rabbits would be an unusual occurrence, however, if pet rabbits or rodents are housed outdoors in a hutch and there’s a history of a bite wound, or if a species that is known to transmit rabies, like a raccoon or skunk, has been observed in the vicinity, then the possibility of rabies in the rodent or rabbit increases. 

Anyway… here are the 2014 stats:

Bronx:  51 animals tested (23 raccoons, 11 cats, 7 dogs, 5 bats, 2 skunks, 3 opossums).  All negative.

Brooklyn: 110 animals tested (35 cats, 34 raccoons, 26 opossums, 9 dogs, 5 bats, and 1 “other”).  Five positives (4 raccoons and 1 opossum)

Manhattan:  48 animals tested (18 cats, 10 raccoons, 8 bats, 7 dogs, 2 skunks, 3 “other”).  All negative.

Queens:  138 animals tested (73 raccoons, 35 opossums, 14 cats, 8 dogs, 7 bats, 1 skunk). All negative.

Staten Island: 50 animals tested (19 raccoons, 12 cats, 5 dogs, 5 opossums, 3 bats, 3 groundhogs, 1skunk, 2 “other”).  Seven positives (6 raccoons and 1 skunk).

I’m sure you’re curious about the “other” category.  They include 1 rabbit, 4 squirrels, 1 gopher, and 1 mouse.

So, 2014 was a pretty good year.  If you look at the cumulative data from the past 22 years (1992 to 2014), you can see that the percentage of positives is pretty low.  15004 animals were tested, and 638 came up positive.  That’s 4.3%.   Again, of the 638 animals that have tested positive over the past 22 years, there have been zero dogs and only 14 cats.  This emphasizes the importance of vaccination.  There were 3021 cats tested, which means that there was some suspicion that they might have been exposed to rabies, but only 14 were positive, and 12 were presumably unvaccinated strays.  And 1930 dogs have been tested over the past 22 years, and none have tested positive.  So keep up with your rabies vaccinations, because rabies is absolutely, invariably fatal once your pet is diagnosed with it.