06/18/07 — Officials warn of rabies concern

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Officials warn of rabies concern

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 18, 2007 1:46 PM

Pet owners need to stay educated and up-to-date on vaccinating their animals, say health officials concerned about the rise in rabies cases.

Rabies, a fatal virus that attacks the brain and nervous system, can be transmitted from one animal to another, or from animal to human. Skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats are typical carriers, with household pets particularly at risk.

"More and more now our pets are being exposed to wild animals," said James Roosen, Wayne County Health Director.

"It's not just a wild animal thing," added Justin Scally, animal control director. "Our domesticated animals are very much considered at risk ... and we're coming into that time of year where we'll probably see more cases."

So far this year, there have been three documented cases in Wayne County, Scally said -- one fox and two raccoons -- and all involved household pets.

Last year, Roosen said, there was a case of a kitten found positive with rabies, consequently exposing several family members to the virus. Recently, a dog was reportedly exposed to a rabid fox.

"The dog got into a scuffle with a fox, which later tested positive for rabies," Scally explained. "The dog had been vaccinated against rabies but wasn't boostered within 72 hours (of exposure) for rabies so there was some concern."

There are two types of vaccinations, a one-year and a three-year. Typically, animals with the one-year vaccination that have not been exposed to rabies can be updated with the three-year shot.

When there is possible exposure to a rabid animal, a booster needs to be given within 72 hours.

For a pet that has not already been vaccinated, there are only two choices -- quarantine the animal for up to six months at a vet's office or euthanasia.

Such options can be a huge burden on pet owners, Roosen said, which is why education on the subject is imperative.

"If people knew more about rabies law and vaccination, maybe we could prevent some of this heartache from occurring," he said.

Put simply, the state law says the owners of every dog and cat more than 4 months old has to have a rabies vaccination. That includes indoor as well as outdoor animals, Scally said.

"Even indoor cats need to be vaccinated because bats are common carriers of rabies -- even indoors sitting in a window, the cat can be exposed to rabies," he said.

Some might also choose to vaccinate other pets -- ferrets and horses, for example.

"We haven't had any reports of horses but there have been documented cases," Scally said.

Cases of rabies are on the rise, Roosen said. Though considered rare years ago, last year there were 500 cases reported in North Carolina, 12 in Wayne County.

Most involve wild animals, but when you consider the case of the aforementioned kitten, an ounce of prevention is advised, Roosen said.

"Once a person gets rabies, there's no cure for it -- it's a fatal disease," he said. "Very rarely does anyone survive rabies. That's why the law is so strict."