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FOR RELEASE: July 11, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

New Rabies Control Rules Start July 13

Rabies continues to be a serious health threat to the pets and people of Oklahoma. Thus far in 2000, 35 cases of animal rabies have been confirmed statewide. Four laboratory-confirmed cases of rabies in skunks have been verified in Grady County alone.

Current rabies law requires that dogs, cats and ferrets in Oklahoma be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age. State rabies control regulations only recognize a vaccination if administered through the services of a licensed veterinarian. Effective July 13, new changes to the rules will require businesses to post a consumer notice if they sell rabies vaccine over-the-counter to the public. The notice will warn vaccine purchasers that if their home-vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret bites a person, or is exposed to a rabid animal, the pet will not be considered appropriately vaccinated. This rule, however, does not apply to rabies vaccine used to immunize horses, cattle, or sheep.

Rabies is an infectious, viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. To address the health threat of rabies, officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health want to alert the public about the importance of animal rabies vaccinations and responsible pet ownership. Under the new regulations, unvaccinated pets that bite a person will be more stringently managed at greater costs to the owner than pets that are properly vaccinated.

Last year, 38 counties in Oklahoma reported at least one case of animal rabies. The highest concentration of rabies activity in 1999 occurred in Pottawatomie and Atoka counties with 12 cases confirmed in each county. The total number of rabies cases decreased from 107 cases diagnosed in 1998 to 94 cases diagnosed in 1999.

Three rabies prevention tactics used by public health officials are stray animal control, vaccination of companion animals, and avoidance of wild animals. To prevent exposure to rabies, teach children to never handle wild animals, or approach unfamiliar dogs or cats. Pet owners are advised to keep dogs and cats close to home to reduce contact with other animals. Outdoor dogs should be kenneled, or kept within a fenced-in yard. Cats should be kept indoors as much as possible and not allowed to roam freely at night.

Persons with hobbies or jobs that place them at increased risk for unrecognized exposure to the rabies virus are recommended to receive pre-exposure vaccines. This includes veterinarians, veterinary technicians, wildlife officers, animal control personnel, bridge inspectors, cave explorers and workers in animal diagnostic laboratories. Pre-exposure immunizations are also recommended for persons traveling to foreign countries with high rates of canine rabies.

For more information about rabies prevention, contact your local county health department or the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Communicable Disease Division at 405/271-4060.

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