By NewsDesk  @bactiman63

Rabies in deer is typically rare; however, in several counties in west-central New York State, at least four cases have been reported in recent weeks, prompting officials to remind the risk as hunting season is about to start.

Fawn whitetail deer. Image/Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

According to the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, cases have been reported from Cayuga, Cortland, Ontario and Orleans counties.

In Cayuga County, a white-tailed deer in Cayuga County was reported as “thrashing around and unable to get to its feet.”

In Ontario County, a deer was found “swimming weakly in a small pond” by concerned property owners.

In Cortland County, a white-tailed buck was euthanized by a DEC Environmental Conservation Officer after it was found “circling in a yard, ” it “appeared thin,” and was approachable by humans.

Lastly, a white-tailed deer carcass after it was found dead in a pond by the homeowner in Orleans County.

In all cases during recent weeks, a sample of the brain was sent to the NYS Dept. of Health – Wadsworth Lab for rabies testing and were positive for rabies.

The Cornell Wildlife Health Lab says rabies is an acute, viral infection of the central nervous system caused by a Rhabdovirus. All mammals, including humans, can become infected with rabies. Once clinical signs appear, rabies is nearly 100% fatal.

Rabies is widespread in NY and raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes make up the vast majority of cases in the United States.

Clinical signs may vary and are not typical. Many diseases can have similar signs, including distemper. Nonspecific signs may include restlessness, anorexia, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, or diarrhea.

An acute neurologic period usually follows the nonspecific stage of disease by 1 to 2 days. Animals may show problems with balance, excessive aggression, salivation, incoordination, appearing “tame” or a lack of fear, self-mutilation, agitation, and head tilt.

Animals may appear “dumb” with lethargy, mild paralysis, frequent urination or incontinence, constipation, flaccidity (low muscle tone), and decreased reflexes.

Transmission of the rabies virus is primarily through the saliva from the bite of an infected animal.

Rabies diagnosis is done by direct fluorescent antibody (FAT) in a specialized laboratory. A specific section of brain tissue is required to make a definitive diagnosis.

There is no successful medical treatment for clinical rabies infection in humans, however prompt vaccination is highly effective at preventing the disease. If bitten by a suspect animal, flush the wound with soap and water. Contact the local health department.