Pa. had most domestic animal rabies cases

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It's summertime, and the biting is easy ... for rabid raccoons, foxes and bats as they encounter hikers, bikers and others involved in outdoor activities.

Veterinarian Erin Moore of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has issued warnings about a number of recent rabies attacks in Western Pennsylvania.

Although the number of rabies cases in Pennsylvania has not increased over the past several years, she said, the state was No. 1 of all 50 states in 2010 for the number of domestic animals, such as cats, dogs, horses and cows, contracting rabies.

Between Jan. 1 and May 30 of this year, 114 raccoons, 18 skunks, 15 foxes and 12 cats tested positive for rabies in the state, Ms. Moore said.

A goat tested positive for rabies in June.

Ms. Moore said rabid animals exhibit three main types of behavior: fury -- think Stephen King's "Cujo"; lethargy -- a raccoon, for example, that just sits in your driveway and moves clumsily, if at all; and paralysis.

In Pennsylvania, raccoons and foxes are the most common carriers of rabies, she said. Raccoons, foxes, cats and bats with rabies each exhibit slightly different symptoms, and Ms. Moore gave descriptions of behaviors to watch out for.

Raccoons, normally nocturnal, will typically appear in daylight and appear unafraid of people when infected with rabies, she said.

Dogs chased a rabid raccoon under a garden shed in Bethel Park on May 4. Because their rabies vaccinations were up-to-date, the dogs simply had to be placed in quarantine for 90 days.

A dog in Kiskiminetas, Armstrong County, was not as lucky. A raccoon was seen chasing the dog on Dilick Road. The family found the dog, which had not been vaccinated, standing over the dead raccoon, which tested positive for rabies.

The dog had a scratch on its nose and had to be euthanized because chances were good that it would develop rabies. Ms. Moore said the pet's death could have been prevented with a rabies vaccination.

A dog that encountered a rabid bat in Hempfield also was protected by a vaccination. The dog will stay in quarantine at its home for 90 days to make sure the vaccine is working.

The rabid bat in Hempfield, like many rabid bats, was having trouble flying, Ms. Moore said. It entered a Hempfield home June 17 while a woman was sleeping, Ms. Moore said.

At first, the woman heard a hissing sound that she thought was a beetle. Then, she found the bat on the floor in her dog's crate; her dog was smacking it with its paw.

Ms. Moore said health officials are advising anyone who finds a bat in sleeping quarters to have the bat tested and get rabies shots. Bats' teeth are so small that sleeping people may not feel their bites, she said.

A man in the western part of the country who probably was bitten in his sleep died recently, she said. He didn't get the rabies shots because he didn't think the bat he found had bitten him.

Rabid foxes, in contrast to overly friendly rabid raccoons, can be quite aggressive, Ms. Moore said.

In late May, a young woman was cycling with friends on the Hoodlebug biking and walking trail south of Homer City, Indiana County, when she saw a fox lying on the trail that she thought might be injured, Ms. Moore said.

When she approached it, the fox growled, chased her and bit her forearm. With her other hand, the young woman managed to pry the fox off her arm and held it by the throat for about 30 minutes while waiting for a Pennsylvania Game Commission officer to arrive. The officer, who had been called on a cell phone by one of the woman's friends, shot the fox.

Ms. Moore said people should look for any change in behavior in their animals. Cats that have rabies may act as though they are in heat, rub on people and nip them, she said. Rabid cats also may wrap their front paws around a person's leg and bite the leg, she said.

Two weeks ago, a North Dakota woman on vacation at Mountaintop Campground near Tarentum was bitten by a cat. She and her family managed to trap the animal, which turned out to have rabies. Now, the woman is going through the rabies shots series, Ms. Moore said.

Ms. Moore urged people to have every pet dog and cat vaccinated against rabies.

She noted that more than 55,000 people worldwide die each year from rabies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provides a map that shows rabies cases county by county and what type of animal was involved at agriculture.state.pa.us. For more rabies information: www.worldrabiesday.org.


Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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