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Health officials wary of rabies in county

Staff writer

With three confirmed cases of rabies in the county, health officials are urging residents to take precautions to prevent its spread.

“It is a bit of an increase from what we normally see,” said Health Department Administrator Diedre Serene. “The biggest thing is encouraging individuals to use precautions when dealing with stray animals.”

Of the three confirmed cases, two were cattle and one was a skunk. Serene said contrary to popular assumption, animals stricken with rabies may appear weakened and in need of help.

“Most people assume a rabid animal will be aggressive, but that’s not necessarily true,” she said. “Some animals will be passive, and even appear paralyzed.”

Serene added that rabid animals will exhibit a lack of fear. Skunks, for example, that would typically flee from human contact may be approachable.

Rabies is spread through the bloodstream, usually by contacting with saliva. Typically, this means a person or animal who isn’t bitten is not considered to have been exposed to the disease. Protocol for animals who have been exposed to rabies calls for either euthanasia or six months of quarantine.

Serene said as with most health issues, preventative treatment is the best way to counteract the disease, both physically and financially. The vaccines, which are good for two years, must be administered by a veterinarian, and usually cost around $20 or less, Serene said. The treatments required in response to a bite from an infected animal, as well as necessary testing to confirm diagnoses, can range in the thousands of dollars.

Serene said those who report cases of rabid animals are responsible for fees associated with testing them for the disease. Humanely killing any infected animal is the most certain way to prevent spread of the disease without incurring any fees.

Serene said the actual number of rabid animals in the county is likely higher than three.

Accordingly, residents should use as much caution as possible to avoid being exposed to the disease.

The health department advises to have all animals vaccinated, to seek medical attention if bitten and report to the health department, and to call a veterinarian should an animal get bitten.

In the case of bats, criteria for exposure is met more easily. If residents wake up in a room with a bat, Serene said, they should seek medical attention, and trap the animal if possible, regardless of whether there is evidence of a bite or scratch.

Additionally, the health department urges individuals not to handle or feed wild animals, not to nurse sick wild animals to health, and to teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, even if they appear friendly.

For more information, contact the health department at (620) 382-2550.

Last modified May 6, 2015

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