Rabies vaccinations urged for cats, dogs

Cape Cod Times


BARNSTABLE - Cape Cod is in for a tough couple of years, now that rabies has established itself here, according to state health department epidemiologist Dr. Alfred DeMoria.

"You are dealing with a tremendously difficult situation," he told a group of about 50 people gathered at the state's Rabies Awareness Day at Barnstable Superior Courthouse yesterday.

The event, sponsored by the state health department in spring to kick off Rabies Awareness Month in April, aims to educate people about how to avoid rabies exposure. Yesterday was the first time since the department began holding the annual event in 1992 that it was held on Cape Cod.

Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system. Untreated, it is almost always fatal. More than 50,000 people around the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, die of rabies each year.

When rabies moves into an area that has never seen it before, there tends to be a large number of cases for the first couple of years, DeMoria said. After that, the populations of animals that tend to carry it - primarily raccoons and skunks - decrease, as does the incidence of disease, he said.

Speaker after speaker yesterday pounded home the need for pet and livestock owners to have their animals vaccinated. Rabies clinics are scheduled April 2 from one end of the Cape to the other, according to Dr. Thomas Burns of the Cape Cod Veterinary Medical Society.

Without up-to-date rabies shots, animals who tangle with a rabid or suspected rabid animal either need to be quarantined for a period of time or destroyed.

Cindy Parker-Kelley of Marstons Mills and her husband, David Kelley, yesterday gave testimony to the danger of encountering a rabid animal. Parker-Kelley was attacked by a rabid coyote on the morning of Feb. 17, when she went outside to see why her 60-pound dog was yelping. She and her husband, who was forced to knock the coyote out after it continually attacked him, have had to endure the series of five rabies shots afterward.

"We don't wish that on anyone," Parker-Kelley said.

As horrific as the Kelleys' experience was, an unvaccinated cat poses much more of a risk than a coyote, Burns said. Fewer than one-third of the cats on Cape Cod are routinely vaccinated against rabies, and yet cats are the third most likely animal in the state to contract rabies, after raccoons and skunks, he said.

Even indoor cats should be vaccinated, as should ferrets, he said.

Cats were the No. 1 animal submitted to the state laboratory for testing last year, according to the public health department. Of the 1,044 submitted, only eight tested positive for rabies, which means 1,036 cats lost their lives for no reason. There is no test that reveals whether a live animal is carrying rabies, according to Burns.

For that reason, cat owners should make sure their cats are wearing collars with identification or a rabies tag, Yarmouth Animal Control Officer Penny Schiller said.

(Published: March 24, 2005)

This article © Copyright 2005 Cape Cod Times