New York City health officials are warning people about an aggressive squirrel that is biting park visitors and may have rabies. The squirrel has bitten five people since July 18. Parks officials are asking anyone else who has been bitten or has had a pet bitten since July 10 to come forward.
The squirrel lives in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and has attacked people near the Parkside and Ocean Avenue entrance. Four people have been identified, and a fifth, a jogger, has not been identified by officials. According to New York City government statistics, humans haven’t contracted rabies in New York City in over 50 years.
Squirrels rarely carry rabies, but the unusually aggressive behavior of the squirrel is causing alarm. The city is urging affected people to get treated at an emergency room and to take bitten pets to the veterinarian.
The NYC Health Department said that rabies can be fatal in humans unless rabies shots are administered soon after exposure. Small rodents like squirrels and their counterparts, including chipmunks, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, and rats rarely carry rabies. The most rabies cases in the United States occur after bites from raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. In New York City and state, the most likely carriers are raccoons, bats, and skunks.
Rabies cases from squirrels have never occurred before. Officials have also mentioned that if the squirrel really has rabies, it would likely already have died from it.
“Aggression in squirrels is extremely rare, but parkgoers’ 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 NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver.
Most squirrel bites occur when people get close and try to feed them.