What is rabies?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort.
As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
Great Bend veterinarian Nels Lindberg has some advice for animal owners – get those critters vaccinated for rabies right away.
“I have been involved in a number of incidents where simple rabies vaccination alone could have eliminated a lot of ‘pain,’ due to circumstances with unvaccinated animals,” he said. He was responding to a Kansas State University report about a spike in confirmed rabies cases in Kansas over last year.
“It’s not just about the pets, it is mostly about preventing death loss in the human population as well,” he said.
A KSU laboratory that conducts tests on suspected cases of rabies in the state released the findings Monday. Rolan Davis, a diagnostician in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, or KSVDL, said there were 28 positive rabies cases from January through March of this year, up from 10 positives for the same three months in 2014.
Twenty-three of those cases involve rabies in a skunk, the animal most associated with carrying the virus in Kansas. There also were three cases in cats, one in a bovine and one in a fox.
Davis echoed Lindberg and said the increase is not a cause for alarm, but rather an opportunity to raise awareness among pet owners.
“Rabies is always around,” Davis said, who works in diagnostic laboratory’s rabies lab. “If we see a jump in cases, we feel it’s our duty to let people know and urge them to take steps to protect themselves and their pets should an infected animal wander into their backyard.”
Mike Moore, veterinarian and project manager of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said that cases submitted to the rabies lab increased from 208 in 2014 to 248 in the first quarter of 2015 — about a 20 percent rise. The number of positive cases, however, rose at a much higher proportion.
“We are always cautious when reporting increased positive results because we don’t want to ‘cry wolf,’” Moore said. “But one quarter into the year, we have thus far seen nearly three times more positives.”
Moore said that vaccinating domestic pets is the best protection against rabies.
However, Davis noted that’s not always comforting to pet owners with new litters. Young dogs and cats cannot be vaccinated until they’re at least 3 months old. In those cases, he urged owners to be extra diligent in protecting the litter from outside intruders.
“You can’t ‘skunk-proof’ your yard,” Davis said. “You should vaccinate your older pets if they’re not already vaccinated.”
Davis said that while an increase in positive tests in skunks seems to be the concern currently, wild bats also are a common carrier of the rabies virus. Bats carry a different strain from skunks, which means the number of positive tests in that species will spike from time to time, just as it has for skunks currently.
Humans are at great risk of death if bitten by a rabid animal, so treatment immediately after a bite is critical. Davis said humans are more commonly at risk from bats.
Owners of all pets that have been bitten by any domestic or wildlife animal should contact their veterinarian immediately to discuss appropriate case management options.
For more information, contact the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 866-512-5650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.