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Prospect Park 'aggressive' squirrel attacks spark concerns of rabies exposure

A 7-year-old girl suffered multiple bites from a

A 7-year-old girl suffered multiple bites from a squirrel attack in Prospect Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo Credit: Andres Guerrero

At least five people were attacked by an “unusually aggressive” squirrel in Prospect Park, and the Health Department is urging anyone who’s recently been bitten to seek medical attention for potential rabies exposure.

All of the attacks happened at the same area of the park, near the entrance at Parkside and Ocean avenues, according to health officials. In one incident, the rodent sunk its teeth into a jogger, who has not yet been identified, and in another a 7-year-old girl suffered multiple bites.

The bites occurred at various times throughout the day from Tuesday, July 18, 2017, to Thursday, July 20, 2017.

Prospect Park South resident Andres Guerrero said he was walking with his 7-year-old daughter near the Parkside Avenue entrance between 6 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, when a squirrel randomly started biting her arm.

"I called 911 because she was bleeding," Guerrero said. He noted that he and his daughter were not carrying any food when the attack happened. 

"We went to emergency room. She had a rabies shot – she had big bites. We have to go back to the emergency room for more shots."

The shock of the attack continues to upset his daughter, he said.

"She is not OK. Every night, she's crying and scared. 'Please papi, help me, the squirrel is coming, a big one.'"

The city's Health Department could not difinitively say whether the animal is rabid, but said that incidents of squirrels being infected with rabies are rare.

“This is an isolated incident,” the DOH said in a statement. “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.”

If the squirrel is infected by rabies, it's likely already dead, they added.

Anyone who was bitten is urged to seek rabies post-exposure prophylaxis at an emergency room. Those with a pet that was bitten should go to a veterinarian, officials said.

The agency will be posting fliers at the entrance to the park to alert visitors of the menace and to advise people not to feed the wildlife, while parks department workers continue to search for the animal. But people should not be deterred from visiting the park, according to health officials.

The health department has not identified any rabid animals in the park or in Brooklyn this year. The agency receives roughly 70 reports of squirrel bites each year, and the cause is usually because a person was feeding the animal.

The Health Department could not immediately provide historic data on rabies reports in Prospect Park.

There has never been a report of a squirrel with rabies in New York State since it began tracking rabies cases in 1992.

There have also been no known cases of transmission of rabies from squirrel to human.

“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,” DOH Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said 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.”

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