Rise in number of rabies cases leads to public health advisory

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- For the second consecutive year, Missouri is experiencing an unusually high number of rabies cases in animals.

The Department of Health and Senior Services said Tuesday that it had issued a statewide health advisory for rabies. Fifty-four rabid animals had been detected this year as of Saturday, including 44 bats, seven skunks, two horses and one cow.

That's already well past the 10-year average of 42.5 rabid animals a year, the department said, although in 2005, 73 rabid animals were detected.

"We need everyone in the public health, medical and veterinary communities to be aware of this and ready to respond to potential rabies cases in their area," said Dr. Howard Pue, state public health veterinarian.

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that affects the central nervous system and ultimately can cause death. It typically is transmitted through bites by infected animals, the most common of which include bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Early symptoms in humans can include fever, headache and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, partial paralysis, hallucinations, excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing.

Five Missouri counties have been placed under rabies alerts this year. Callaway, Cole, Jackson and Pulaski counties have been under alerts since July. Barton County was under a rabies alert from February to May because of a rabid cow.

A horse from Pulaski County that had been taken to a show in Tennessee on Aug. 20 was diagnosed with rabies by a Tennessee laboratory on Sept. 7, the health department said. A horse from Callaway County tested positive for rabies on Sept. 9 at the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory. Both horses acquired rabies from bat bites, the department said.

About 40 people who were potentially exposed to the horses are receiving anti-rabies vaccinations.

Pue encouraged people to vaccinate their pets against rabies.

He said children should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets.

On the Net:

Rabies: http://www.dhss.mo.gov/Rabies

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