The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 19, 2013

Valley rabies reports up 40%

Increase significant, agriculture department veterinarian says

— SUNBURY — The 40 percent increase in the number of confirmed rabies cases among wildlife and pets in the Valley in 2013 is “a significant” jump, a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture veterinarian says.

Four recently confirmed cases show rabies in two foxes in New Berlin, and in kittens in Danville and Shamokin Dam. The four cases bring the total of rabies-infected animals in the Valley to 14 this year.

“Despite the increase, I wouldn’t say it was more than a random blip in the number of rabid animals we find every year in Pennsylvania,” Agriculture Department veterinarian Dave Griswold said Friday.

“It’s something to be careful about, but there are so many possible causes for the increase. Maybe people are just more educated, more observant and see an animal behaving unusually. Maybe one of their pets has been bitten, and you think it has contracted the disease.”

Rabies has been in the Valley for years, Griswold said.

“When people hear that a kitten, or a fox, in the area is carrying the rabies virus, the first reaction is fear,” he said. “People will go looking for animals exhibiting abnormal behavior and quite often mislabel that as rabies. We get calls from people all over the state about this. Some people will shoot the animal that is suspected to have rabies and just bury it. In those cases we never really know if it was rabies.”

One can’t be completely sure that an animal has rabies by just looking at it.

Foxes, cats, skunks and raccoons are four of the most common carriers of rabies, Griswold said.

Dirk Remensnyder, state Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer for Union County, said he is often asked how do people get rabies?

“An animal infected with rabies carries the virus in its saliva, so if it bites somebody, the virus has a way into the person’s body,” Remensnyder said. “It’s possible to get rabies from an animal scratch, too. The virus cannot penetrate intact skin. People can only get rabies via a bite from a rabid animal or through scratches, abrasions, open wounds or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or brain tissue from a rabid animal.”

The virus is short-lived when exposed to the open air and is no longer viable after saliva dries, Remensnyder said.

“If you are handling a companion animal who has been in a fight with a potentially rabid animal, wear gloves to prevent contact with any still-fresh saliva,” Remensnyder said.

The only way to definitively prove that the rabies virus is present is to have the Department of Agriculture test for it, Remensnyder said.

“Unfortunately, once an animal actually has the virus, there is no known cure,” he said. “Once it is in the animal’s system, it’s over. If a person thinks he or she has been exposed to rabies, we recommend that you immediately see a physician and start a regimen of shots. But it’s also important to capture or bring the suspected animal in to be tested, because what you are seeing might not be rabies.”

Be wary, Remensnyder said.

“But not afraid,” he said. “If you happen to be confronted by an animal that is acting very aggressively, and it’s disoriented, be smart. Stay away from it. Walk away.”


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