Animal Rabies Cases In Missouri

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An unusually high number of animal rabies cases in Missouri has triggered a warning from state health officials, who are urging people to vaccinate pets and seek medical treatment for any animal bite.

“We are seeing more cases of rabies than we normally do, with 55 cases so far this year, more than the total for an entire year in Missouri,” said Dr. Howard Pue, Missouri’s state public health veterinarian. “Furthermore, we are seeing a higher-than-normal percentage of rabid skunks, with 35 percent testing positive for rabies this year.”

The rabies warning comes as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services gets set to recognize Sept. 28 as World Rabies Day.

Rabies is a disease of mammals and is transmitted primarily through bites. Nationwide, more than 90 percent of reported rabies cases involve wild animals. But many of these animals – such as bats, skunks and foxes – are common in neighborhoods and backyards.

In Missouri, rabies is most often seen in bats and skunks, but also occasionally in farm animals and pets. Because many pets have contact with wild animals and with people, protecting pets through vaccination also protects Missouri families.

“Because pets are more likely to have contact with a rabid animal, it is vital for people to have their pets vaccinated against rabies,” Pue said. “Vaccinated pets serve as an effective, protective barrier between people and rabies.”

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Pue adds special attention should be given to bites from bats since their small, needle-like teeth can result in a wound that goes unnoticed or is ignored. Although less than 1 percent of wild bats have rabies, almost all human rabies deaths in the United States occur from exposure to rabid bats.

A Missouri man died from rabies in November 2008 due to a bite from an infected bat. The man did not seek medical treatment following the bite.

People who find a bat in their home and think they could have been bitten should consult with their local public health agency or animal control office to determine if testing of the bat is necessary. Testing could keep these persons from having to undergo the series of anti-rabies shots, which might be necessary if the bat is simply caught and released without testing.

Pue also warns people to stay away, and keep their pets away, from all wild animals, especially those exhibiting unusual behavior. A wild or domestic animal acting strangely should be reported immediately to animal control officials.

“Parents should caution their children against handling any wild or domestic animal that they do not know, even if the animal appears friendly” Pue said.

Anyone who has been bitten by an animal, particularly a stray dog or cat or a wild animal, should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 10 to 15 minutes. A physician should be contacted to see if antibiotics, tetanus booster, or other medical treatment is needed. They should also have a rabies risk assessment done.

If possible, the animal should be captured or confined. The local health department should be contacted to seek proper disposition of the biting animal. The local health department will determine if action is needed, such as quarantine of the animal or euthanasia and testing for the presence of rabies virus.

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