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FOR RELEASE: April 19, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Rabies Season is Here Remember to Vaccinate Your Pets

Vaccinating pets against rabies is crucial for their protection as well as the protection of you and your family, according to public health officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). In the first four months of 2007, there have been 31 confirmed cases of animal rabies reported in Oklahoma. So far, 27 skunks, 3 cattle and 1 dog have tested positive for rabies.

The OSDH also reports a noticeable increase of rabies cases in the Garfield County and Vance Air Force Base areas, with five cases reported. Other counties with increased rabies activity include Blaine and Grady counties, with three cases each.
In 2006, a total of 69 animal rabies cases were reported statewide for the entire year. “Our animal disease surveillance is indicating nearly double the number of animal rabies cases in 2007 compared to the number we observed in 2006 at this same time of year,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist and State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Kristy Bradley. “We want to remind animal owners of the importance of keeping their pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations – not only to protect their pets, but to protect their families from potential exposure to rabies and costly, post-exposure rabies shots.”

In Oklahoma and the central plains states, skunks are the primary wild animal source of rabies virus. Bats can also be infected with and transmit rabies. Rabid wildlife spread the disease to other wild animals or unvaccinated pets and livestock when they bite, spreading the virus through saliva into the fresh bite wound.

Although most rabies cases in Oklahoma occur in skunks, most human exposures to rabies result from contact with rabid pets or livestock that developed rabies because they were not vaccinated and had an encounter with a rabid wild animal.

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms of the disease have started. Rabies virus is found in the brain, spinal cord and saliva of infected animals and is transmitted through a bite or opening in the skin or mucous membrane (eyes, nose, or mouth).

Oklahoma rules and regulations require that owners have their dogs, cats, and ferrets vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian by the time the animal is four months of age. The interval between rabies vaccinations and boosters will depend upon the age of the animal, type of vaccine administered, and city licensing codes. Rabies vaccines labeled for use in horses, sheep, and cattle are also available and recommended for show animals and all valuable breeding stock.

Other ways that pet owners can reduce the risk of pet exposure to rabies is to 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. Do not keep pet food outdoors for extended periods of time and keep trashcans tightly sealed to avoid attracting hungry wildlife.

In addition, parents should teach their children to never handle wild animals, including bats found on the ground, or approach unfamiliar dogs or cats. If you suspect your animals have been exposed to rabies, immediately contact the county health department or call the local animal control officer.

For more information about rabies, contact your veterinarian or the county health department. Rabies information is also available on the OSDH Web site at http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/rabies.htm.

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