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(West Plains) – A third confirmed case of rabies has been reported to the Howell County Health Department by the Missouri State Public Health Lab in Jefferson City, and due to the animal’s nature, Howell County has been placed under a rabies alert.

The case involved a stray rabid cat approximately 3 miles east of Caulfield. The cat attacked a dog and cat that are owned by a family in the community. One family member received significant bites and scratches while trying to break up the fight and is currently undergoing the anti-rabies series of shots. The family’s dog and cat had current rabies vaccinations, and they both received rabies boosters and were placed under a 45-day home quarantine.

Due to the fact that rabies in a domestic animal represents a serious and imminent public health threat, Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Dr. Howard Pue, State Public Health Veterinarian, is placing Howell County under a rabies alert effective immediately. This case is the first known case involving rabies in a cat in Howell County. The rabies alert was put in place inform citizens within Howell County of the increased rabies risk and to make them aware of actions that should be taken when situations involving wild or domestic animal bites occur.

Justin Frazier, Environmental Public Health Supervisor with the Howell County Health Department said, “Had the pets in this case not been up to date on their vaccinations, we would have had to euthanize them or quarantine them for 6 months at a vet facility at the owner’s expense as a result of the rabies exposure. It is very important for people to protect themselves against rabies by not handling any pet that has been exposed to a wild animal until that animal can be tested to see if it is carrying the rabies virus.”

“It is never enjoyable to have to recommend that an individual receive a series of rabies shots or to require the euthanization of family pets. Unfortunately, rabies is a fatal disease, and as a result, exposed individuals must NOT take a “wait and see” approach, only seeking treatment once symptoms develop. It is extremely important for anyone that has been bitten by a domestic animal, had an exposure such as a bite or scratch from a wild animal or had contact with a pet that has been exposed to a wild animal to report the incident to the health department, as well as their physician, for a rabies risk assessment. The proper actions must be taken quickly following a possible exposure to protect individuals from the rabies virus.”

In 2008, a Texas county man died from rabies after being bitten on the ear by a bat and who failed to seek medical treatment following the bite, marking the first human rabies death in Missouri since 1959.

Although rabies is transmitted to humans almost entirely through bites from rabid animals, contamination of open wounds or mucous membranes with saliva or nervous tissue from a rabid animal could potentially constitute an exposure. It is important to remember that personal pets should not be handled without protection directly after being exposed to wildlife, due to the potential for exposure from residual saliva from an infected animal.

To date in 2013, this is the third confirmed case of rabies in Howell County, two skunks and a cat, as well as the sixteenth rabies case statewide. Howell County ended 2012 with 6 rabid skunks reported to the Howell County Health Department. In 2011, Howell County had a total of 7 positive rabies cases, which all involved skunks. In 2010, Howell County had a record total of 16 positive rabies cases, all involving skunks.

Annually, 7,000 to 8,000 rabid animals are detected in the United States, with more than 90 percent of the cases in wild animals. Rabies is found naturally in Missouri, occurring primarily in bats and skunks, although other animals are also found to be rabid each year, including domestic species such as dogs, cats, horses, and cattle.

Management of Pets Bitten by a Rabid Animal

Pet owners should be aware that if their dog or cat does not have a current rabies vaccination from a licensed veterinarian and is exposed to a rabid animal, the pet will either have to be euthanized or quarantined for six months at the owner’s expense, at an approved vet facility. In contrast, a dog or cat that is currently vaccinated and is exposed to a rabid animal, needs only a rabies booster shot followed by a 45-day home quarantine. Domestic animals are protected against rabies 28 days AFTER receiving their initial rabies vaccination.

Actions Following a Potential Rabies Exposure

The following actions should be taken if a person is bitten or otherwise exposed to a potentially rabid animal:

Contact the Howell County Health Department

Domestic animals: Identify and, if possible, confine the biting animal. Dogs, cats, and ferrets may be quarantined for ten days or they may be euthanized and tested for rabies. Other domestic animals are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Wild animals: Identify and, if possible, confine the biting animal for rabies testing. No quarantine period is recognized for wild animals.

Wash the wound immediately and thoroughly with soap and water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Consult with a physician to: (1) check your tetanus immunization status, (2) determine if antibiotic treatment is needed for bacterial infection, (3) determine if other medical procedures are necessary, such as sutures in the case of disfiguring wounds, and (4) have a rabies risk assessment completed, including determining if the anti-rabies series of vaccinations are warranted.

Community Prevention – Rabies is 100 % preventable

  • Avoid contact with wild animals and stray pets.
  • Make sure dogs and cats are vaccinated against rabies.
  • Keep pets under control; do not let them run loose.
  • Do not keep wild animals or wild animal crosses as pets.
  • Notify the local animal control office or health department if you suspect an animal has rabies.
  • Seek medical evaluation when bitten or otherwise injured by an animal.

The Howell County Health Department encourages all residents to contact the health department if a possible exposure occurs and to keep pets current on yearly rabies vaccines to protect them as well as you. Additional information about rabies is available by calling the Environmental Public Health Section at the Howell County Health Department at 417-256-7078.

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