18 treated after contact with rabid raccoon in RI

Jim Chatell said he couldn't resist petting the baby raccoon his neighbor in Coventry found last Saturday.

"It was cute like a little kitten," he said. "I just petted it. I didn't pick it up."

It was a decision that came with a series of consequences in the form of rabies vaccinations.

"A series of shots, I got eight of them," Chatell said.

Chatell is one of 18 people now being treated for possible rabies exposure after coming into contact with the animal that later tested positive for the disease. Sixteen people are from Rhode Island and two people from Connecticut are being treated. Four are under 18.

One of Chatell's neighbors took the animal in, hoping to raise it as a pet. When they found out it was rabid, they called for help.

"The animal developed signs of seizures," said Scott Marshall, a state veterinarian.

John Spaciano lives down the street from Chatell, and said he has enough trouble keeping animals out of his house. He said he knows better than to touch a wild animal, but he got his dog vaccinated as a precaution.

Spaciano said he lives in the country to appreciate nature, but always at a distance.

"I certainly wouldn't let an animal in my house or be handling it for that matter," he said.

And that's what the Health Department recommends.

"We have people who are trained to handle these types of animals, they are vaccinated. We also have the appropriate facilities for them to be brought to," Marshall said.

So no matter how big their eyes or how cute they may seem, the message is stay away.

"They are adorable but you have to avoid them," Marshall said.

Rabies infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease of the brain and death when untreated.

Humans can be exposed through a bite, scratch or other direct contact with an infected animal.