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Local rabid skunk points to importance of vaccinations

A skunk that tested positive for rabies after being found dead in a homeowners’ yard is not a public health concern, though it did result in the preventable loss of a family pet.
The owners chose to euthanize their border collie after finding a bite mark on the dog’s face that appeared to have been made by the skunk, according to Debbie Dobbs, director of the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Center.
“The only other option is to quarantine with no human contact for six months,” Dobbs told Animal Control Board members during their Aug. 5 meeting.
A vaccination would have made all the difference. “(The owners) only vaccinated the dog during its first year, and said they didn’t realize they had to do it again,” Dobbs noted, emphasizing the importance of annual rabies shots.
The seriousness of the disease brings the Health Department in on potential cases, she added.
“We do the rabies investigations and work hand-in-hand with Animal Control,” said David Sullivan, environmental health specialist with the Washington County-Johnson City Health Department. “Animal Control sent in the skunk for testing, and we got the report July 31.”
Though they don’t know the variant of the rabies, Sullivan isn’t concerned about receiving a rash of reports from county residents. “Once the animal becomes symptomatic, it will die within three to five days,” he said. “Most of the time, the dog will kill the rabid animal in the process (of an attack), which also keeps it from spreading.” This particular case is closed, according to Sullivan.
The long incubation period before the animal shows symptoms of rabies is what requires the quarantine period, and Sullivan said whether the pet’s vaccinations are current determines the length.
“Rabies has to make it to the brain so it depends on where the animal is bitten,” he said. “If it’s in the leg, (rabies) will take longer to get to the brain than if it’s bitten in the face.” The rabies is then spread through the saliva glands, he added.
“We have a protocol we follow any time we have a domestic animal involved with a rabid one,” Sullivan said.
According to the guidelines, a vaccinated dog, cat or ferret that is exposed to a rabid animal is revaccinated immediately and observed for 45 days by its owner.
If the dog, cat or ferret is unvaccinated or its vaccination is questionable, euthanasia is strongly recommended. The only other option is a strictly enforced six-month double isolation, such as a kennel within a kennel, and no human contact.
Options for other domestic pets exposed to a rabid animal are euthanasia or confinement for six months. A radio fence is not an acceptable means of confinement, according to the Health Department.
Sullivan said this rabies case is the first one for the year. “It’s seasonal, and we usually see a lot of activity in the spring,” he said.
Protecting your pet from rabies is as simple as the annual vaccination.
“Keeping your animals vaccinated will prevent having to put them down,” Sullivan said. “In addition to vaccinations, don’t allow them to run loose where there is more likelihood of their being exposed.”