ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. -- Warmer weather has a lot of pros, but unfortunately it comes with an increased chance of encountering an animal with rabies.

The Erie County Health Department said Thursday a significant number of abandoned raccoon and fox pups, including those with rabies, have already been reported. There is also increased concern with the mild 2016-17 winter, which allowed more insects and wild animals to survive than in most winters.

In 2017, there have already been four confirmed cases of rabies in Erie County, which include the highly unusual case of a sheep, the ECDOH says. In 2016, there were 13 bats, 10 raccoons, two foxes, two cats, two skunks and a woodchuck identified as rabid.

The Health Department stresses one of the best ways to avoid the risk of contracting rabies, a deadly disease, is to leave wildlife alone -- even if it is young and appears to be orphaned. This could cause the animal to be euthanized inadvertently, and anyone who handles that animal would still need to be treated with post-exposure anti-rabies vaccinations, the Health Department says.

The recommended action to take if an orphaned or injured animal is found is calling a wildlife rehabilitator, such as the Wildlife Department of the SPCA serving Erie County, which can be reached at 716-875-7360. Another is the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Regional Wildlife office at 716-851-7010, and they can find a rehabilitator closest to where the animal was found.

The Health Department says rabid bats can be identified by the fact that they are not able to fly and are disoriented, which can make them more likely to be around kids and pets or to fly into a home by mistake.

Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner, says it isn't always a bite that can transmit rabies.

"Even a minor scratch or simply touching an animal may be enough to transmit the rabies virus from animal to human," she said in a statement. "Bat bites may not be noticed because bat teeth are very tiny and razor sharp and a bat bite can be no bigger than a needle prick."

She recommends any direct contact with a bat or other wildlife that could be infected with rabies should immediately be reported to the Erie County Health Department at (716) 858-8701, which can also take questions about the fatal disease. The ECDOH also recommends avoiding touching any pet that may have come in contact with rabid animal.

If you find a live bat flying around your home, the ECDOH recommends waiting for it to land then placing an empty can or wastebasket over it, before sliding some cardboard underneath. You can also knock the bat down with a broom or tennis racket or capture it in a net. After it's down, the ECDOH says it's vital to avoid touching the bat with bare hands.

For more information on rabies prevention and protection, visit: