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Spike In Rabies Incidents Prompts Health Officials’ Warnings

Published: June 30, 2017

When a beloved cat or dog comes home from a romp injured, after apparently tangling with some sort of wild animal, the immediate urge is to gather that pet up, comfort it, and treat its wounds.

And it is perfectly natural when a child — or anyone — sees a cute baby animal like kitten, to have an urge to pick it up. Even tiny, defenseless wild animals like raccoons may prompt someone to handle them to try and get them from out of harm’s way.

These circumstances have all occurred in Newtown or in the region in recent weeks, prompting health officials to urgently remind residents about the dangers of potential rabies exposure.

According to Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert, in recent weeks, her office has submitted two baby raccoons from separate locations to the state Department of Public Health Lab for rabies testing. She said residents in Newtown and Roxbury, which is also part of the Newtown district jurisdiction, had come across baby raccoons and cared for them.

Within the past month, Ms Culbert’s office learned of a pet cat that appeared to have been attacked by a wild animal. When the pet returned home, it reportedly was covered with both blood and possibly saliva from the other animal, which could have been rabid.

And in another situation, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and the neighboring Pomperaug Health District issued a pair of public health notices on Saturday, June 10, regarding a rabid kitten.

That kitten was first found in the area of a Walmart store off of Route 69 in Waterbury near the Wolcott town line, and reportedly turned over to a cat rescue group that had it available for adoption at a regional event in Southbury June 3, where it could have been handled by multiple individuals.

The kitten subsequently died and tested positive for rabies on June 9.

In this case, the DPH is now advising anyone who may have handled the 4- to 5-week-old injured black and white kitten with a damaged nose, which was on display for possible adoption at a Southbury Townwide Tag Sale on June 3, to seek medical advice.

The tag sale was at Southbury Green shopping plaza, at 775 Main Street South.

It is believed that most of the time the kitten was located near the Whiskers Pet Rescue Booth. Anyone who may have either handled the kitten, or who may have come in direct contact with someone who handled that kitten, could be exposed to rabies.

In the two Newtown Health District cases, both baby raccoons also died. And fortunately for those who handled them, they both tested negative for rabies, Ms Culbert told The Newtown Bee.

“But the message cannot be any stronger,” Ms Culbert stated. “Let wild animals stay wild.”

Ms Culbert said as a pet owner and lover herself, she is empathetic to others who may see their pet injured or in distress. But she could not stress more strongly that if such a situation presents, owners must remember to shield themselves from possible exposure immediately if they are handling their injured pet to prevent contracting or spreading rabies.

This official Health District warning is extremely important and timely as many wildlife species are having babies this time of year.

“Rabies is serious, and left untreated, rabies is deadly,” the health director said, prompting her to pass on a few important questions and answers about the disease:

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 humans 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.

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.

All warm-blooded mammals including humans can get 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.

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.

Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in rabies for humans. If preventive treatment is obtained promptly following a rabies exposure, most cases of rabies will be prevented. Untreated cases will invariably result in death.

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.

Ms Culbert said that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has good information about distressed wildlife — access it here.

“If help is needed dealing with distressed or nuisance animals, call Newtown Animal Control at 203-426-6900,” Ms Culbert added. “Carolee Mason is our animal control officer and she has stellar staff. Newtown has extraordinarily capable, experienced, and dedicated personnel in our Animal Control Division.”

For questions regarding human rabies exposures contact the DPH Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program at 860-509-7994.

The Department of Public Health also offers a free and informative brochure about Rabies in Connecticut — view or download a copy here.

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