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FOR RELEASE: April 8, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

State Health Officials Report Animal Rabies at 5-Year High

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported today that the incidence of animal rabies is on a sharp upward trend in the state since last winter. Throughout 2002, 126 animals tested positive for rabies at the State Public Health Laboratory. This total is more than double the number of positive cases reported in 2001 and marks a five-year high in the number of animals that have tested positive for rabies in Oklahoma since 1998. Already in 2003, 49 animals have tested positive for rabies, including 39 skunks, 4 cattle, 3 dogs, 2 horses, and 1 cat.

“We are quite concerned by this recent rise in our animal rabies cases,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Kristy Bradley. “In just a few months, our staff has conducted the number of rabies exposure assessments we typically do in an entire year. Rabies alerts have been issued for Bryan, Beckham, Major, and Roger Mills counties, and more are likely to follow.”

The occurrence of animal rabies is not unusual in Oklahoma. Rabies is an infectious, viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Although more than 70 percent of rabies cases in Oklahoma occur in skunks, most human exposure to rabies results from contact to livestock or pets that develop rabies disease.

There are two types of exposure to the rabies virus. The most dangerous type is a bite from a known rabid animal that punctures the skin. A non-bite exposure can result when saliva, spinal fluid or brain tissue from a rabid animal gets into an open wound or mucous membrane.

There is no treatment for rabies after symptoms of the disease appear. Each year, more than 40,000 persons in the U.S. receive postexposure prophylaxis, a vaccine regimen of a series of shots that provide immunity to rabies when administered after exposure.

To prevent exposure to rabies, Bradley emphasized the importance of vaccinating family pets, horses and valuable livestock. Oklahoma state law requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be immunized against rabies by or under the supervision of a veterinarian by the age of 4 months. The time between needed rabies boosters will depend on the age of the animal, the type of vaccine administered and licensing codes in some communities. Bradley suggested consulting with your personal veterinarian for vaccine recommendations tailored to the exposure risk of individual pets. She also recommended that horses and valuable livestock be vaccinated against rabies.

“Parents should teach their children to never handle wild animals, or approach unfamiliar dogs or cats,” Bradley said. “Pet owners should keep their 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.”

“Clearly, it is better for you and your animals to keep their vaccinations up-to-date against rabies,” Bradley emphasized.

For more information about animal rabies, contact your local county health department or check out rabies information on the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site at http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/rabies.htm

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