OREGON COUNTY -- Pet owners in Oregon County need to be aware that this is the time of year to make sure their animals are vaccinated against rabies.
Oregon County Health Department Administrator Shiela Russell said two weeks ago a suspected rabied skunk was sent off from the Thomasville area but test results came back negative.
A confirmed case of rabies was reported last week in Howell County. "Since our county borders Howell County we need to be very cautious," Russell said.
She said to date, no cases of rabies have been reported in Oregon County.
"Rabies is a disease that can affect all mammals and each year about 7,500 animals, most of them wild, are diagnosed with the disease in the United States," she said.
Russell said by far, the primary route of human infection with the rabies virus is through a bite from a rabid animal. "The skin must be broken for a virus transmission to occur," Russell said. She said rabies transmission is also possible when a claw scratch or a mucosal surface such as the eye, nose and mouth is contaminated with the saliva from a rabid animal.
She said rabies in humans is rare in the United States because of effective vaccines for dogs and cats and effective treatment for people exposed to rabid animals. "More than 22,000 people in our country receive treatment each year to prevent disease from occurring due to an exposure," she said.
Russell said there are several ways to spot the symptoms of rabies in animals. "A change in a dog's personality is a symptom. For example, a normally friendly, active dog may become shy and sluggish while an animal that is normally quiet and shy may become aggressive and attack other animals or people. A wild animal that is normally active only at night may become active during the daytime," Russell said.
She said some rabid wild animals lose their natural fear of people and other animals. Some other symptoms include refusing to eat, unusual excitability or restlessness, snarling or growling at moving objects, excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth. "This type of rabies, called vicious rabies, ends in paralysis and death within several days. Some animals do not go through the vicious stage. Instead they develop what we call dumb rabies, which is a rapidly progressing paralysis that last three to five days and ends in death. A slack or dropped jaw is a sign of dumb rabies," she said.
Russell said since 1999 about 90 percent of the people who contracted rabies in the United States were infected with variants of the rabies virus associated with bats. She said it is interesting that only two or three of these patients had a definite bat bite. "These cases and recent findings suggest that limited or insignificant physical contact with rabid bats may cause rabies, even without a clear history of animal biting," she said.
Russell said to prevent exposure to rabies:
* Avoid contact with wild animals and stray pets.
* Make sure all pets are vaccinated against rabies.
* Keep pets under control and do not let them run lose.
* Do not keep wild animals or wild animal crosses as pets.
* If you suspect that an animal has rabies, notify your local health department for instructions. Do not attempt to capture the animal yourself.
"If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible for 10 to 15 minutes, then notify the health department. All confirmed or suspected exposures should be evaluated by a physician," Russell said.
For more information concerning rabies call the Oregon County Health Department at 417-778-7475 at Alton or at Thayer at 417-264-3114.