Rabies risk

Two raccoons and a bat so far this year have tested positive for rabies and reports of emerging health threats from mosquitoes and ticks are sobering reminders that we humans must respect and take precautions against the risks posed by some of the many creatures with whom we share this beautiful planet.

No matter how cute and cuddly the wildlife that is wandering through one’s backyard may look, Wiltonians need to be aware of the very real — and very deadly — risk of rabies and other diseases.

Traditionally, bats have played the role of Bad Guy when it comes to rabies — perhaps an unfair rap, as most are not rabid and they are great at eliminating mosquitoes, which pose a further risk. Still, residents do need to treat any bat that makes its way into a house as potentially infected. Do not shoo it out a window; trap it and call Animal Control so it can be tested. Bat bites can be hard to see, and, when it comes to rabies, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Despite a continuing rabies threat from bats, over the past decade or so, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, and foxes have taken over the spotlight as the more common culprits at spreading this deadly disease. Never handle a wild animal, and don’t ever handle a pet that has come in contact with a wild animal. If pets are fighting with a strange animal in the yard, use a hose or shovel or long stick to break it up, handle the pet only with gloves, and again, call Animal Control immediately.

Most importantly, make sure household pets are inoculated. The law that dogs and cats must have rabies shots is in place for a reason. There was a time when dogs were the number one perpetrators when it came to spreading rabies; now, it’s almost non-existent in them.

And of course, there are the deer. They are so pretty, so harmless and cute as they munch on grass in the backyard, it’s hard to think of them as “dangerous.” But the ticks to whom they are the primary host are literally everywhere there are deer — and, ticks equal Lyme disease.

Now, health officials are beginning to see other diseases spread by ticks, diseases that can even be fatal.

The best defense is a good offense: If you are outside anywhere where deer may be, assume you have been exposed to ticks. Wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible, and most importantly, do a thorough tick check every time you return indoors.

Remember, too, that bug spray is your friend. Walks near the water at sunset may be beautiful and relaxing, and hikes through the woods after a late summer rain are invigorating, but mosquitoes seem to love the same thing. Again, wear protective clothing and use bug spray with DEET. Remove skeeter breeding grounds around your property, like wheelbarrows, tire swings, clogged gutters, and kiddie pools.

Save yourself a world of heartache: immunize pets, be aware of your surroundings, and enjoy wildlife only from afar.

— K. D.