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A cat infected with the rabies virus has been found in Newstead, the Erie County Department of Health reported this afternoon.

It’s the first documented case of a cat testing positive for rabies in Erie County in six years, health officials said.

Health Department officials said they recently investigated a call of an “ill cat” found by children on the side of Cedar Road in Newstead. The feline was retrieved and taken to the SPCA Serving Erie County where it died a short time later. The cat tested positive for the rabies virus.

“This is the first documented incident of a cat having rabies in Erie County since 2008,” stated Peter Tripi, the health department’s senior public health sanitarian. “One of our rabies sanitarians interviewed the nearest neighbors on Cedar Road to ensure no one else was exposed to this animal. We were unable to ascertain if the cat was a stray or someone’s pet.”

“Erie County residents are advised to not feed stray cats and wild life so they are not attracted to their properties, as well as not to approach or handle these animals.”

Officials said the incident just reinforces the importance of making sure pets are vaccinated against rabies. Rabies, if untreated, is nearly always fatal in animals and humans.

So far this year, health officials have identified 10 rabid animals. Besides the cat, the animals included bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks, health officials said.

In Erie County, the animals were located in Aurora, Buffalo, Eden, Kenmore, Lancaster, North Collins, and Newstead. One of the animals was a rabid skunk on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Irving. Thirty-five rabid animals were identified last year.

“Unusual behavior may be the first sign of rabies in an animal,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “A rabid animal may become either abnormally aggressive or unusually tame. It may lose fear of people and become excited and irritable, or, conversely appear particularly passive and lethargic. Staggering and frothing at the mouth are sometimes noted.”

Health Department officials advised the public to “get yourself, family members and your pets to a safe location” if you see or suspect an animal is rabid and contact the department’s Division of Environmental Health at (716) 961-6800.

Meanwhile, in September, the health department will hold its annual free rabies clinics. The times for all of the clinics are 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The dates and locations are:

•Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Erie Community College-North Campus, 6205 Main Street, Noonan Center - Maintenance Garage, Amherst.

•Tuesday, Sept. 16 at the Springville Fire Company, 405 W. Main St., Springville.

•Wednesday, Sept. 24 at the West Seneca Highway Garage, 39 South Ave. (off Union Road near Route 400), West Seneca.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com