5 bitten by possible rabid squirrel at NYC park

New York City's health department said any visitors to a Brooklyn park who were bitten by a squirrel in the last two weeks should get medical attention for possible rabies exposure.

Health officials have five reports of people being bitten by an unusually aggressive squirrel on the southern side of Prospect Park between Tuesday and Thursday.

All the attacks occurred in the same area of the park. Four patients have been identified; a fifth, who was attacked while running, has not been identified

Officials said squirrels rarely have rabies but are acting under the assumption that the animal did because of its behavior. If it did have rabies, it is likely already dead.

Flyers are being posted at the entrance near the area where the incidents occurred. New Yorkers should continue to use the park but are warned against feeding or approaching any wildlife.

The Parks Department and the Prospect Park Alliance are searching for the animal.

Generally, squirrels do not carry rabies. The Health Department has not identified any other rabid animals in Prospect Park or Brooklyn in 2017. Since rabies surveillance began in 1992, New York State has never identified a squirrel with rabies. Additionally, there have been no known cases of squirrel-to-human rabies transmission in the United States. The Health Department receives approximately 70 reports of squirrel bites a year, and the cause is mostly attributed to feeding.

"Aggression in squirrels is extremely rare, but park-goers' behavior toward all wildlife should remain the same: Do not approach the animals with whom we share our city, but rather appreciate them from a distance. Keeping your distance protects both you and the animals themselves," said Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.

New Yorkers should always keep themselves and pets a safe distance away from wildlife and do not feed wildlife. If you see an injured or orphaned animal, call 311.

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