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Not getting pets vaccinated against rabies could cost a bundle
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Barton County Health Departments Lily Aikings visited with attendees at the Great Bend Farm and Ranch Expo Wednesday about the importance of vaccinating pets against rabies. Last year, the health department investigated 92 cases in Barton County. - photo by Veronica Coons

Locally, a rabies vaccination for a cat or dog costs on the average $15, plus a mandatory examination which can cost around $25.  For most people who drive the average truck, that’s about the same as a half a tank of gas at today’s prices.  While its nothing to sneeze at, it’s a lot easier to manage than the $8,832 cost of post exposure treatment.
According to information provided by the health department, when an adult comes in contact with a rabid animal, treatment includes a tetanus shot, four rabies vaccinations and immune globulin and four clinic visits  And if the animal can’t be found, preventative measures must still be taken.  
In the past year, the Barton County health department has investigated 92 cases in which bite victims might have been exposed to the disease.   “That’s just the ones that were reported to us,” said Pam Stiles, public health nurse.  “There are many cases that go unreported because people feel confident they know the animal, or they don’t realize how serious the risk is.”    Any bite that breaks the skin should be reported, she said.
Sixteen people had to receive preventative treatment, and of those, 11 were children ages three to 12, Stiles said.  Sadly, a child’s trusting nature, natural attraction to animals, and inexperience can really be harmful.

Wildlife rabies a concern
Early Tuesday night, the Great Bend Police Department  responded to a call from Amy Kile at 5296 Timber Creek Circle, Great Bend, reporting a raccoon was attacking her dog.  An officer was able to locate and shoot the animal.  Later Kile learned the animal was not infected with rabies, but with another disease.  It was a close call. 
According to Aikings, a wild animal attack on a pet isn’t unusual in Barton County.  In fact, the health department is working to raise awareness among county residents of the need to have their pets vaccinated for the disease.
“It’s absolutely vital for the protection of our pets, as well as ourselves,” she said Wednesday at the BCHD booth at the Great Bend Farm and Ranch Expo.  
When a pet who has been vaccinated properly comes in contact with a rabid animal, they are protected.  If vaccination has lapsed, or it is unknown if it has occurred, Stiles said it must be boarded and monitored for ten days to ensure it has not contracted the disease.  The only way to determine if rabies is present is a post-mortem examination of the brain.  If exposed to wildlife with unknown status, the number of days in quarantine go up to 45, she said.  
“That’s another expense people don’t think about when they choose not to get their pets vaccinated,” she said.

How it spreads
People can be exposed to rabies two ways, through a bite, and through contact with saliva, brain tissue or spinal fluid from an animal with rabies, either through a scratch, an abrasion or open wound, or through contact with the eyes or mouth, Stiles said.  And an animal can spread the disease soon after they are affected, even before they begin to show symptoms of infection.  This is why its important to tell children to avoid contact with strays or strange animals, she said.
The disease usually exhibits two types of symptomatic behavior.  There is “furious” rabies, where the animal is aggressive and is easily excited or angered, and there is “dumb” rabies, where the animal looks dazed or depressed.  Sometimes there may not even be any symptoms.    
Several types of mammals contract the disease readily, including wildlife common to this area, like skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes and coyotes.  Surprisingly, rodents, rabbits and hares almost never get rabies, according to Stiles.
“It’s especially important for people who live in the country to have their pets vaccinated because they are at much higher risk of coming in contact with these animals, though it is possible, as we saw Tuesday night, for it to happen in town too,” Aikings said.  
So why don’t people get vaccinated for rabies?   Aikings said those who are at high risk for contracting the disease do get vaccinated.  People like veterinarians, animal shelter workers, and veterinary lab technicians.  
“It’s very expensive, and not recommended for general use,” she said.  Even after exposure, a vaccinated worker must have the health department “titer” their blood to measure the antibody response to the virus to make sure they are still protected because vaccines aren’t always 100 percent effective, she added.  “It’s so much easier to prevent the disease by vaccinating pets.”

Web resources:  
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization