Rabies case confirmed in Butler County

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Butler County woman is receiving rabies vaccinations and a family pet has been destroyed after a recent attack by a rabid animal.

Test results confirmed Saturday that a skunk, which bit a dog at a family home, was rabid and notified local veterinarians this week, said Dr. Howard Pue, public health veterinarian with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).

Local veterinarians were notified this week.

"A skunk was in the yard and was attacking the family's pet dog," Pue said. "The family found the skunk around the dog house and submitted it through the Butler County Health Department for a rabies test."

A woman who was not bitten but treated the dog after the incident chose to receive rabies vaccinations because she likely came into contact with saliva from the infected skunk, Pue said.

The treatment requires a minimum of six shots.

"Rabies is almost always transmitted by a bite, but if someone has contact with the saliva, we take that on a case by case basis," Pue said. "If she had any cuts or abrasions, she could have picked it up."

The family pet had to be euthanized because it did not have a current rabies vaccination, he continued.

In total, 15 animals in Missouri have tested positive for rabies this year, Pue said.

"That is a large number this early in the year," he said. "There have been eight bats and seven skunks."

In March, a dog treated at a Ripley County veterinarian's office was found to have rabies. The dog was from Maynard, Ark., according to officials. Staff at the office believe that animal was also in contact with a skunk

.

"In the southern third of the state and in northern Arkansas, we typically see quite a bit of skunk rabies," Pue said. "We see rabies year round, but most cases are from April to October, during the warmer weather when animals are moving around."

A child less than 5 years old in another southern Missouri county recently underwent rabies treatment after being bitten by an infected bat, he said.

"Children especially need to be taught that if they are bitten by an animal to report that to an adult," Pue said. "This girl was very lucky. If she had not told her father, she might have developed rabies and died."

It also very important to vaccinate family pets, he said.

"It protects the health of the pet, but more importantly, it protects the health of people," Pue explained. "An animal can have rabies and not show signs for several days. It could lick a child's face and transmit the disease, go off and die somewhere, and the family wouldn't know it has rabies

. Vaccines give us another barrier between rabies, which is mainly found in wildlife, and our families."

If a family pet comes into contact with an infected animal and has not received proper vaccinations, it is standard for the pet to be euthanized, according to Pue.

"If the animal is protected, it is given a booster and observed at home for 45 days or so," Pue said.

Classic signs that an animal is infected include slobbering and aggressive behavior, said Hillcrest Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Michael Shepard. Shepard believes it has been at least five years since another case of rabies has been confirmed in Butler County.

"If you see a skunk or a raccoon out in the daytime, that is suspicious," he said. "They are nocturnal. There are also signs of what we call dumb rabies. The animal is not aggressive, just acting incoherent."

Pue advised people to avoid any contact with wild animals.

"Wild animals should be enjoyed from a distance," he said. "If you see an injured wild animal, let nature take its course. Teach children to stay away from stray dogs and cats. That is probably the greatest source of exposure."

Many people each year receive rabies vaccinations because the animal they were bitten by could not be captured and tested, Pue said

.

"The treatment is not fun, it is not without risk and it is expensive," he said. "It is best not to have to get it."

An average of 40 animals in Missouri each year are found to have rabies, according to DHSS.

It can take three to six weeks from the time an animal is exposed to the disease for signs of the illness to become apparent.

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