WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are warning the public of possible exposure to rabies after an animal reportedly bit several customers at a Westerly Walmart on July 4 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Authorities say anyone who may have had any physical contact with the small black mammal – identified as being either a ferret, mink, or weasel – while inside the Westerly store should contact the health department for an assessment.
The number to call is 222-2577 during normal business hours, and 272-5952 outside of normal business hours.
At least two people were reportedly bitten by the animal, however, neither have come forward to seek treatment. State officials are operating under the assumption that the animal could have rabies although it was not tested. The two individuals who were bitten, and others who may have been in contact with the animal, are at risk of rabies exposure and should be evaluated.
Once symptoms appear, rabies is fatal for both people and animals. Rabies immunization must be started as soon as possible after exposure.
The RIDOH reminds the public to always:
- Make sure all pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets) are up to date on rabies vaccinations.
- Avoid all contact with stray, wild, or free-roaming domestic animals, and avoid feeding those animals.
- Avoid feeding pets outdoors, as this will attract other animals.
- Protect pets by controlling them (leashes, fenced yards).
- Report all animal bites to local city or town animal control officers.
- Securely cover all garbage cans so wild animals cannot scavenge for food.
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