2011-11-17 / Front Page

Steer Tests Positive For Rabies

Unknown how livestock was exposed
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has confirmed a steer that died in southern Fulton County last Wednesday had been infected with the rabies virus.

In an announcement dated Thursday, November 10, Dawn Dilling, a domestic animal health inspector with the Altoona office of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Health, reported a steer from Bethel Township had been exhibiting signs of illness for approximately four days before dying.

According to Dilling, the steer was “drooling and became aggressive.

Eventually the steer laid down and could not get back up.” The animal died Wednesday, November 9, and was submitted to the Department of Agriculture for rabies testing that was completed the following day.

Early signs of rabies in animals include changes in personality ranging from stuporous to unusually aggressive. Paralysis of the throat muscles is also a common sign of rabies, which causes an excess of saliva and an inability to swallow.

The incubation period of rabies varies depending where on the body an animal has been bitten.

Dilling went on to say it is currently unknown how the steer was exposed to the virus. In addition, officials are unable to determine if the animal that infected the steer may have exposed other wild or domesticated animals.

“ ... Please consult your private veterinary practitioner to determine your animal’s needs,” Dilling urged local residents. “This is of great importance, as you need to assure that your pet is not a potential source of rabies for your family and neighbors.”

Pennsylvania law mandates all dogs and nonferal cats over the age of three months must have rabies vaccinations. Booster vaccinations must be given periodically to maintain lifelong immunity. The rabies vaccine is also available for other species such as livestock and should be administered on an annual basis by a veterinarian.

In further discussing the case, Dilling stated at least one individual has begun receiving post-exposure treatment for exposure to the rabies virus.

Early on-set symptoms of rabies in humans are “nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation and hydrophobia, which is a fear of water.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention adds that death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.

In future events where local residents suspect a wild or domesticated animal has been infected, the animal should be killed humanely without damaging the head. While wearing plastic or rubber gloves, the head should be placed in a sealed container and refrigerated with ice. Do not use dry ice, and do not freeze it. Game Commission representatives from the Southcentral Regional Office should be contacted immediately when dealing with wild animals by calling 814-643-1831.

Veterinarians can also explain procedures to have an animal delivered to a qualified laboratory for testing. Testing is free of charge from the state Veterinary Laboratory in Harrisburg at 717-787-8808.

This month’s incident in Fulton County increases the number of recorded cases of rabies to at least four in 2011. Between the months of January and October, one raccoon tested positive for rabies here as did two foxes.

The state Veterinary Laboratory maintains records for rabies diagnostic testing dating back to 1900. This year through the month of October, a total of 385 cases of rabies have been recorded statewide.

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