The New Milford Health Department has issued a reminder to residents with information about rabies and its prevention.

The reminder follows a possible rabies exposure April 3.

The New Milford Police Department responded to an incident and spoke to three residents who were aiding a feral cat on Aspetuck Ridge Road. The cat was subsequently released.

The residents did not report they had been bitten or scratched by the cat in question.

The risk of rabies exposure or infection under these circumstances would be extremely low but the actual risk is unknown.

The Health Department reminds residents rabies is a viral disease circulating in wildlife populations that affects the central nervous system.

It can be transmitted from infected animals to man. This can occur primarily through a bite or scratch but saliva contact with broken skin would also be a possible route.

The wild animals most commonly affected in our area are raccoons, skunks and bats. However, other wild animals including cats, coyotes and foxes are also sometimes affected.

Unvaccinated dogs and cats are at risk of acquiring rabies.

The early symptoms of rabies include irritability, headache and fever. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, convulsions, delirium and death.

Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. But treatment should be obtained promptly following contact with a confirmed or potentially rabid animal.

One of the most effective methods to decrease the chances for infection involves thorough washing of the wound with soap and water.

Medical attention should also be obtained so the rabies vaccine could be administered, if necessary.

Rabies vaccination is very effective and relatively painless. It is a four-dose series given in the arm over a 14-day period.

Rabies prevention is very important.

There are several things residents can do to minimize their exposure to rabies and prevent the disease.

Protect your pet

Visit your veterinarian (or a rabies clinic) with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all cats and dogs.

Keep pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten or has other contact with a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.

Call the local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.

Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.

Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals

Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes and others) from afar. Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.

Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.

Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.

Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools and other similar areas where they might come in contact with people and pets.

If contact happens

Wash wounds thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. A health-care provider will care for the wounds and will assess the risk for rabies exposure.

Do not directly handle your pet after an incident with a wild animal. Wear rubber gloves to minimize your own exposure.

You or your health-care provider should also promptly consult with your local health department, animal control officer and veterinarian.

The important point is that you seek care and follow-up promptly after contact with a potentially rabid animal.

For more information, call the Health Department at 860-355-6035.