By Konstantine Fekos
With this year’s rabies count now equal to the county record of 12 cases in 2002, the Crawford County Humane Society is urging the public to be alert.
“It’s a cause to really start using caution,” said LeRoy Stearns, the local Humane Society director. “The number has really grown and I’m concerned it will continue.”
In efforts to prevent an outbreak outright, the Humane Society will be offering rabies vaccines for cats and dogs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Antlers & Anglers event on Saturday at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.
Vaccinations will cost $12. Pet owners requesting a three-year vaccine will need to bring their animal’s previous vaccination record. Animals must be leashed to receive immunization.
“There have been at least two reports of rabies-positive animals in the city of Meadville,” said Stearns, noting a strong possibility of spread among animals commonly left outside. “Cats may be next. It only takes one cat.”
The breakdown for Crawford County consists of 11 reports of raccoons and one groundhog that tested positive for the virus out of Pennsylvania’s 230 cases between January and July.
The past two years have seen only three confirmed cases. Records on verified county statistics go back to 2001.
Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes have the highest numbers of confirmed reports respectively, but Pennsylvania has also seen cases of deer, cattle, horses, cats and a bobcat.
“Our employees will be handling sick animals differently,” said Stearns. “Some of our staff have been vaccinated, but many will need a series of prevention shots by November.”
The cost for all of the society’s employees and veterinary workers may run as high as $7,000.
Stearns, who was vaccinated during more than 25 years of handling animals, emphasized avoidance as a top prevention method and immediate medical treatment in the event of contact or injury.
“Don’t approach stray animals or any you don’t know,” warned Stearns, also naming that as a good general rule to follow. “In the event of any scratch or bite, get immediate medical treatment. Lastly, have your pets vaccinated.”
Animals with rabies may or may not display obvious symptoms, given the virus’ variable incubation period, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (DOA). Nonetheless, signs to watch for are separated into two categories: furious and paralytic.
The first category’s symptoms include aggressiveness, loss of fear to noise or human activity, daylight activity in otherwise nocturnal creatures, and restlessness or excessive vocalization. Dull symptoms include incoordination or loss of balance, slack jaw and weak hind legs.
“For instance, if you see raccoons out during the day time, something’s definitely not right,” said Stearns. “Or if you see an animal acting aggressive or that seems to be losing its balance, your best bet is definitely to stay away.”
Rabies can only be properly identified through tests on brain tissue, according to Stearns. Therefore, the symptoms can be confused with other diseases.
“Anyone disposing of animals needs to do so properly,” he said. “Even the area in which the animal was destroyed needs to be bleached to eliminate any rabies residue.”
The DOA also mentions the dangers of saliva from infected animals.
If anyone suspects a wild mammal is infected, the DOA requires they call the Pennsylvania Game Commission to capture the animal and submit it for testing. Only domestic cases can be taken to the Humane Society, said Stearn.
“It’s not an epidemic or reason to panic, but I certainly hope people will take these numbers seriously,” he concluded. “Just use caution.”
- More information: Contact Pennsylvania Department of Health, 1-887-724-3258; Pennsylvania Game Commission Northwest Regional Office, (814) 432-3187; Visit agriculture.state.pa.us and search “rabies.”
Confirmed cases in Crawford County 2001-12
2012: 12 as of Oct. 2
What to do
If you see an animal that displays symptoms of rabies or have been bitten by an animal, even if it does not appear to have rabies, call the state Department of Health at (877) PAHEALTH or the local state Department of Agriculture office at 332-6890. If the incident takes place outside of regular work hours, call 911.
Did you know?
Pennsylvania law requires all dogs and non-feral cats 3 months of age and older to be vaccinated against rabies. Booster vaccinations must be administered periodically to maintain lifelong immunity. Failure to comply with the law may result in a fine of up to $500.