County health officials have stepped up monitoring of rabies in northern Brookhaven Town after the disease was discovered in a dead river otter.
The otter had been collected from Sound Beach by wildlife experts in December and taken by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to an upstate health department laboratory for testing, said Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for the Suffolk health department.
The area under beefed-up monitoring is bordered by Nicolls Road to the west, the Long Island Expressway to the south, William Floyd Parkway to the east and the Long Island Sound to the north, including the shoreline from Old Field to Rocky Point.
Suffolk County’s health commissioner, Dr. James Tomarken, said the increased monitoring is being done “out of abundance of caution.”
Under the enhanced surveillance, people who visited the beach in Sound Beach in December and had any contact with a river otter or who have pets that had any contact with an otter at that time should contact the county health services department at 631-854-0333 during business hours weekdays 631-852-4820 after hours.
People are also asked to report sightings of animals that are dead or behaving abnormally in that area to the health department: 631-852-5900 weekdays.
Under the enhanced surveillance, the department will dispatch someone to collect animal bodies for testing.
Enhanced surveillance is still in effect for Huntington and Babylon towns due to a confirmed case of a rabid raccoon trapped in Hicksville in March — the first rabid raccoon on Long Island in about nine years.
Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted from infected mammals to humans and between animals, including dogs, cats, cattle, raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. People can get rabies if they are exposed to the saliva or nervous tissue of a rabid animal, usually through a bite.
The disease can make animals act extremely aggressive or unusually friendly and can cause frothing of the mouth, convulsions and paralysis. But experts also warn against mistaking protective animals during birthing season for rabid behavior.
Kelly-McGovern said the presence of rabies in a river otter took county officials by surprise.
“This is the first that we know of in Suffolk County in modern times,” she said.
She said officials are not worried about an outbreak because otter numbers are low.
The discovery comes as river otters, almost wiped out on Long Island by pollution and hunting, appear to be making a comeback in some rivers and marshes here.
Health officials offer the following tips to avoid rabies exposure:
Keep dogs, cats and ferrets on a leash and keep livestock confined in the evening.
Do not have contact with any animal other than your own.
Do not feed wildlife or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home.
Do not touch dead or dying animals. Use a shovel, wear rubber gloves and double bag the carcass, if you need to move them.
Do not approach an unknown animal, either wild or domestic, especially if it is acting in an unusual way.
Keep garbage cans tightly covered and avoid storing any food outside.
Children should be advised to tell an adult immediately if they were bitten or scratched by any animal.