Health Department vaccinates NYC raccoons
against rabies
(c) 2010-2019 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved

The presence of rabid raccoons found in Manhattan has heightened media awareness of
these animals and the disease. What is happening with the raccoons around town and how
is the city planning on dealing with this?

On February 4 of 2010, I spoke with with NYC Health Department veterinarian and public
health expert in communicable diseases, Dr. Sally Slavinski.

Records show that in May of 2005 The State of New York conducted an oral rabies vaccine
program in eastern Queens to help control raccoon rabies outbreaks in Nassau County.
When asked if other programs had been done since then, Dr. Slavinski indicated that there
had been no other programs, explaining that rabies was first found in NYC in 1992. Rabid
raccoons were found in Manhattan in 1993 but not seen again until 2009 (12 rabid
raccoons were reported for the entire year of 2009 and 6 as of 1/14/2010). Dr. Slavinski
pointed out that in general human or companion animal incidents with raccoons have
been very rare in NYC.  The infected raccoons identified in New York County, were found
ill, injured or dead.

Asked whether the City will conduct an oral rabies vaccine program in response to the
increase in rabies cases, Dr. Slavinski noted that the Health Department is currently
planning a program to utilize an injectable vaccine (which the city considers to be more
effective) targeting the raccoon populations in Central Park, Morningside Park and
Riverside Park. In order to be as effective (or more) as the oral vaccine the injectable one
must inoculate the same or a greater number of raccoons.  The injectable rabies vaccine
necessitates live trapping to administer where the oral vaccine would not.  The doctor
stressed the department’s policy of respect for all wildlife and verified that humane
trapping procedures will be followed in all programs.

Questioned about reported raccoon sightings on adjacent grounds to East Harlem's Thomas
Jefferson Park, Dr. Slavinski responded that the City would expand the program if necessary.

Issues as to the most effective timing of the vaccine programs were raised. Studies have
shown that city raccoons tend to live closer to each other and to travel less than their rural
counterparts thanks to abundant food sources found in urban areas, however, some  
mothers will shift locations with their young in summer months. Dr. Slavinski noted that
the intended vaccine programs should utilize seasons when the raccoons were most
concentrated in one area, such as the winter and the spring as well as the summer when
there might be more movement. Efforts to implement the programs as soon as possible
are in the works.

Raccoons are highly susceptible to and carry canine distemper. Like rabies, canine
distemper affects the central nervous system and symptoms of both diseases are similar.
When asked if an observer could tell the difference in an infected raccoon, Dr. Slavinski
noted that there is no way to differentiate, adding, however, that canine distemper has
not been found to date in the Manhattan raccoon population.

Raccoons are also known to carry roundworms. But, a 2008 study of Chicago raccoons
showed that the urban raccoons carried significantly less of the parasites than their
country cousins (this is thought to be due to city raccoons consuming fewer small animals
that might harbor the worms). Dr. Slavinski was not familiar with similar studies on NYC
raccoons but did note that the opportunity for further study did exist.

The City of New York is working on dealing with the presence of rabies in our raccoons in
the best possible manner. Citizens can contribute to the effort by educating themselves on
co-existing with urban wildlife.

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Living with urban wildlife means allowing them their space
"The City of New York is
working on dealing with the
presence of rabies in our
raccoons in the best possible
manner. Citizens can contribute
to the effort by educating
themselves on coexisting with
urban wildlife."
Raccoons thrive on open and accessible garbage left by humans
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

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