Cute but Potentially Deadly
Posted on: Friday, January 22, 2010A family in our county placed an ad in the local newspaper to six Labrador puppies. Unknown to the owners and before they were sold, though, a rabid skunk attacked them. When two of the puppies died from rabies, the state veterinarian at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) became involved. Several children had been in contact with one of the infected puppies that died because it had been brought to several school and sporting events. The family that had bought it lived across the street from an elementary school. The whereabouts of the remaining four puppies from the litter were unknown. School officials sent letters home with students and the media notified parents to expect the letters. The media helped to provide information to the public about the rabid puppies that had died and that the remaining four puppies had not been found.
Rabies is a viral disease spread by the bite of an infected mammal. The virus affects the nervous system and eventually invades the brain. If an exposed person is not treated the virus is usually fatal. The incubation period for rabies in humans is typically four to six weeks. The incubation period in dogs is three to 12 weeks, and the virus is not contagious to people during this time. Dogs shed rabies virus in their saliva for one to four days prior to the onset of clinical signs of the disease, and then they die of rabies within a few days following onset. In this particular case, anyone who had saliva contact with the puppy within 10 days before the onset of clinical signs of rabies in the puppy was advised to seek medical care as a precaution. The post exposure prophylaxis regimen for an exposed person included five doses of rabies vaccine and one dose of human rabies immune globulin.
Calls from worried parents started flooding the telephone lines at the local public health department, the hospital, and nearby clinics. The hospital requested that the public health department hold a rabies vaccination clinic at the hospital because they did not have enough hospital staff available to handle the estimated number of people who would need the vaccine. Vaccine was ordered to cover the number of exposed persons. The regional MDH epidemiologist and public health nurse consultant were in contact with the local public health director to provide information and support. Other counties were informed of the situation and asked to be on alert in case more assistance was needed for vaccinating the public. The preparedness guidelines for mass dispensing clinics were followed because many people, primarily children, needed the vaccine and because exposed individuals would need multiple shots over a month-long period.
Local public health, in partnership with the hospital and clinic, ended up being able to handle the initial vaccination and follow-up vaccinations for the 198 people who received the vaccine series. As a result of this experience, the school district is changing its policy so that animals are not allowed at school events.