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Rabies Incidents Drop Throughout Westchester County

The number of incidents of rabid animals in Westchester County is down this year.
The number of incidents of rabid animals in Westchester County is down this year. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user Alan Vernon

ARMONK, N.Y. — Even with some days still left in 2012, it appears that Westchester County will lose its title as the New York State leader in rabies incidents.

"Rabies is a disease that comes in cycles," said Robert Rudd, director of the New York State Department of Health Rabies Laboratory. "It's very common for there to be a big drop-off in positive incidents after a year with a high amount of positives."

In 2011, Westchester County had the most positive incidents of rabies, with 61. The amount was huge compared to other counties around the state, as the second highest was 24 in Erie County. This year, through September, only been 25 positive incidents have been reported, second-most in the state. The highest number of so far this year belongs to Erie County, with 37.

Over the past three years, the number of rabies incidents in Westchester has increased, before this year's drop-off. In 2009, 36 cases were reported. That number increased to 39 in 2010 before spiking to 61 in 2011. Rudd said those numbers are on par with predictions.

"Since the disease is associated with population density, there tends to be three or four years of high incident rates before the numbers drop off drastically," Rudd said. "Basically, as the number of incidents grow to a peak, the animals that are infected are killed and the disease essentially kills itself off."

Despite the low number of incidents compared to past years, the disease hasn't completely gone away, especially in terms of how it affects residents. In April of this year, a woman was attacked and bitten by a rabid raccoon while entering her car at the Valhalla train station in Mount Pleasant. In July, an Elmsford police officer was attacked by a rabid animal and was forced to shoot it. Both victims were treated for rabies.

Given the landscape and climate of Westchester County, Rudd said, rabies is very common for the area. Although 2011 may have been a recent high for Westchester in terms of the number of incidents, it's possible to reach those numbers again.

"This year it's been a fairly typical year," Rudd said.

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