Cape Cod Times

Rabies reaches tip of Cape

By JASON KOLNOS
STAFF WRITER

YARMOUTH - As of this week, rabies-infected animals have been discovered in every town on Cape Cod, state and local wildlife experts said yesterday.

Members of Barnstable County's Cape Cod Rabies Task Force were notified yesterday morning that two raccoons had tested positive for rabies, one in Truro and another in Provincetown. They are the last two towns in the region to detect the disease that first appeared on Cape Cod two years ago.

Exactly 160 animals, mostly raccoons, tested positive for rabies in 2005 which is a slight increase over the previous year, said Karl W. von Hone, Yarmouth's natural resources director and task force co-leader. In 2004, 105 raccoons and skunks tested positive for rabies since March 2 of that year, when the disease first hit the Cape.

The recent news that the disease has spread to the Cape's tip has convinced officials that they need to step up efforts to educate residents on the disease and how to prevent it.

"In a very short time, we're seeing the kind of patterns in Barnstable County that we were seeing over the last decade throughout Massachusetts," said Dr. Bela Matyas of the state health department's epidemiology and immunization division. "The point is we now have to assume that the entire region is endemic for rabies."

Matyas spoke alongside several local, state and federal wildlife, natural resource and environmental experts at yesterday's press conference at Yarmouth Town Hall to kick off April as rabies awareness month in the state.

Officials yesterday stressed the need for people to vaccinate their domestic animals against rabies. On April 1, residents will have the chance to vaccinate their pets at 13 locations from Bourne to Provincetown for about $10.

"My clients are often surprised when I inform them that a rabies vaccine is required by law, even for indoor cats," said Dr. Tom Burns, a Cape Cod Veterinary Medical Association representative.

Burns also stressed the importance of tagging and collaring animals to help officials with identifications if they are ever exposed to rabies. Last year, 39 unvaccinated and untagged cats were killed on the Cape.

"A simple, inexpensive and relatively safe vaccine can prevent many of these wasted lives," he said.

Von Hone said the task force will participate in a rabies-baiting program this May like last year, but must first meet to discuss which towns will be involved. They also are stepping up an education campaign to make sixth graders to twelfth graders more aware of the problem.

"Our hope is that we will be successful in pushing the rabies epidemic off Cape Cod," von Hone said.

Jason Kolnos can be reached at jkolnos@capecodonline.com.

This article © Copyright 2006 Cape Cod Times