Health department officials in New York are warning people about a potentially rabid and “unusually aggressive squirrel” that has recently bitten five people in a park in Brooklyn.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene urged anyone who has come under squirrel attack since July 10 to seek treatment for rabies exposure and take victimized pets to a veterinarian.
“This animal has exhibited extremely unusual behavior and we are urging anyone who has been bitten by it, including any pets, to go and see your doctor or veterinarian,” Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett said Friday in a statement. “Most squirrel bites occur when someone attempts to feed the animal. Keep a safe distance from wildlife and never feed wild animals.”
Five people were bitten by a squirrel from July 18-20 near the Parkside and Ocean Avenue entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, according to the New York City health department.
“This is an isolated incident. Squirrels are rarely infected with rabies; however, based on the unusual aggressive behavior, the Health Department is acting under the assumption that the animal is rabid,” the department said in the statement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that bites from wild animals that cannot be tested should be treated as exposure to rabies. But the agency states that squirrels are generally believed to pose little risk to humans.
“Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are hardly ever found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States,” according to the CDC. “Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies is widespread in your area.”
The New York City health department said that the state has not found a squirrel with rabies since it began its surveillance program in 1992 and that there have been no known transmissions from squirrels to humans in the United States.
Still, warnings have been posted near the park entrance where the squirrel attacked its victims.