Local News

Friday, Apr 13 2012 05:12 PM

Cat tests positive for rabies; officials urge vaccination

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The Kern County Public Health Department urged people to make sure their dogs and cats are regularly vaccinated for rabies Friday after members of a Bakersfield family were bitten by a family feline who later tested positive for the disease.

A pet cat testing positive for rabies is very, very rare, said Dr. Claudia Jonah, Kern County's public health officer.

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MORE ON RABIES

What is rabies and how can it be transmitted?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. In the last stages, the virus moves from the brain into the salivary glands and saliva. From there the virus can be transmitted through a bite or by contact with mucous membranes (nose, mouth and eyes). Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms occur. Rabies is transmitted by a bite of an infected animal.

Who can get rabies?

Any mammal can get rabies, including humans. Rabies is seen in domestic animals such as dogs, cats, cows and horses. In North America, wildlife accounts for 99 percent of rabies. Wildlife most commonly diagnosed with rabies includes raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and coyotes. However, in Mexico and other Latin American countries, dogs are the common carrier of rabies.

What wildlife in Kern County has rabies?

Rabies is detected yearly in bats. Rabies can occur in other wildlife.

What are the symptoms of rabies in people?

Early symptoms include irritability, headache, fever and sometimes itching or pain at the site of exposure. Early symptoms are rarely diagnosed. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, convulsions, delirium and death.

What are the symptoms of rabies in animals?

Changes in behavior are common in rabid animals: nocturnal animals are seen during the day, animals are not afraid humans, become aggressive, attack other animals or people without provocation, may have paralysis of the limbs or throat, or just lay down.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

The incubation period varies, but is normally three to eight weeks. Incubation periods up to several years have been reported. Patients having severe bites or bites on the head usually have the shortest incubation periods.

Can people spread rabies?

Person-to-person transmission is extremely rare; however, precautions should be taken to prevent exposure to the saliva of the diseased person.

How can I protect my animals and myself?

Rabies is preventable. The best protection is vaccination of pets and avoidance of risk. Vaccination of dogs is required by law, but cat owners should also consider vaccinations to avoid exposure to the disease. Keep your pets indoors and make sure their vaccinations are current.

What should I do if my pet gets bitten by a rabid animal?

If you believe your pet has been bitten by a rabid animal, please contact animal control immediately.

What should I do if I am exposed to rabies?

If you are bitten or scratched by a suspect rabid animal, or saliva from the animal enters an open wound, or comes in contact with your nose, mouth, or eyes, wash the wound or contact area with soap and water. Call your physician or the health department and seek immediate medical attention. Remember, rabies is a fatal disease. Post-exposure prophylaxis should be started soon after the exposure. The treatment, when needed, consists of five vaccine doses in the arm, and one dose of rabies immune globulin.

Source: Kern County Animal Control

Kern County is endemic for rabies but it's usually detected in wild animals such as bats, skunks and raccoons, she said.

Some people don't get their cats vaccinated for rabies because they think it could harm their pet, Jonah said, but it's far more important that they protect their family as untreated rabies infections are almost always fatal.

The law requires dogs to be vaccinated for rabies and the shots last for three years, according to Kern County Animal Control. But there's no law requiring cats be vaccinated.

In the local case, two family members in southwest Bakersfield were severely bitten by their indoor-outdoor cat and when they went to the doctor for treatment, they received post-exposure vaccines, Jonah said. They didn't get sick.

Then the cat, which was euthanized, was tested for rabies and the results came back positive Thursday, she said. It was a shock.

As is typical, Jonah said, the cat's behavior changed before the attack; it became more and more aggressive without any provocation.

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