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It was a year ago this month that the Newtown health District was responding to a rare but very real human exposure to the rabies virus that was communicated by an abandoned and then rescued kitten.
So as summer rolls around again, and with Newtown having so many pets, along with its close proximity to wildlife, exposure to rabies — although not commonplace — is a real threat, according to Health District Director Donna Culbert.
Carolee Mason, Newtown Animal Control Officer, spoke to fellow department heads at their latest monthly meeting about the increasing incidence of residents encountering wild animals this time of year. Her message is consistently strong: let wild animals stay wild.
“This message is extremely important and timely, as many wildlife species are having babies this time of year,” Ms Culbert told The Newtown Bee.
The Newtown Health District, in collaboration with the town Animal Control officers, sends numerous specimens to the state laboratory for rabies testing when there has been a potential human rabies exposure.
“Looking at the District’s results since the year 2000, raccoons are the specimens that most frequently test positive,” Ms Culbert said, “this is consistent nationwide.”
There are steps to take to avoid rabies, and there are steps to take if exposed, but the critical constant is that rabies left untreated is deadly.
Ms Culbert says she is a pet lover herself, and she understands the initial reaction when any owner sees their pet injured or in distress. But she could not emphasize more strongly that if such a situation presents, owners must remember to protect themselves from possible exposure immediately if they are handling their injured pet to prevent contracting or spreading rabies.
“Wearing gloves and avoiding contact with any fluids that may be on the pet will help minimize risk,” she advises.
As a public service, the local health official posed these most frequently asked questions and answers:
*What is rabies, and where is the virus found? Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected mammals to man and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear. The virus is found in many wild and domestic mammals, including raccoons, skunks, bats, and unvaccinated dogs and cats.
*How is rabies spread? Rabies is usually spread through a bite from an infected animal; however, saliva contact with mucous membranes or open wounds on the skin are also possible routes.
*Who gets rabies? All warm-blooded mammals, including man, can get rabies.
*What are the symptoms of rabies? Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever, and sometimes itching or pain at the site of exposure. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium, and death.
*What is the treatment for rabies? Treatment requires prompt scrubbing of the bite site followed by the administration of rabies immune globulin (dosage dependent on weight) and four doses of human diploid cell rabies vaccine administered in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, and 14 after exposure.
*What happens if rabies exposure goes untreated? Exposure of man to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies. If preventive treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. Untreated cases will invariably result in death.
*What can be done to prevent the spread of rabies? Exposure to rabies may be minimized by removing all stray dogs and cats, having all pets vaccinated, and staying away from all wild animals, especially those acting abnormally.
“The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has great information about distressed wildlife,” Ms Culbert said. Find it by clicking here.
If help is needed dealing with distressed or nuisance animals, call Newtown Animal Control immediately at 203-426-6900 or dial 911 after hours.
“Carolee Mason is our Animal Control Officer, and she has stellar staff,” Ms Culbert said. “Newtown has extraordinarily capable, experienced, and dedicated personnel in our Animal Control Division.”
She said the CT Department of Public Health also offers a brochure entitled Rabies in Connecticut — What You Should Know and What You Should Do. Download or review it by clicking here.