Three employees are being treated for exposure to a rabid cat at the Washington Area Humane Society Shelter, Holli Senior, an official with the Pennsylvania Health Department, announced on Thursday.
“The cat had been in the facility...since May and did not become ill until December. Once it became ill, they decided it should be tested,” Senior explained.
Washington Area Humane Society (WAHS) is a no-kill shelter in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, which “takes in thousands of animals and investigates an average of 1000 abuse complaints each year,” according to its website.
On December 4, the orange-and-white kitten, named Chance, was immediately segregated upon showing symptoms of illness.
The kitten had been vaccinated for rabies at the time of impound. This would have slowed the appearance of symptoms, Health officials say.
The shelter estimated the kitten’s age at 7 months. On Dec. 4, he was wobbly and moving in circles. He was banging his head and tried to attack people who were in his line of sight. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death, according to the CDC.
After the staff observed his actions for just a few minutes, the humane society veterinarian said Chance was euthanized immediately and his body was taken from the shelter to a laboratory in Pittsburgh.
An animal cannot spread the almost-always fatal disease until it displays clinical signs of infection, Holli Senior stated. The only way to test for rabies is by examining the brain of a dead animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Once the presence of the rabies virus was confirmed the next day, the Department of Health quarantined all felines that may have come in contact with Chance at the shelter for 90 days, according to theObserver-Reporter.
The Health Department recommends avoiding contact with feral animals of any kind, as it can be difficult to tell whether the animal is rabid. All pets that can be vaccinated, including cats and dogs, should be given the vaccine to protect them in case they are ever exposed to a rabid animal, says Trib Total Media.
Health officials are urging anyone who may have been in contact with the orange-and-white cat between Nov. 25 and Dec. 4 at the shelter to call the Health Department.
Drs. Scott Weese and Maureen Anderson of the Ontario Veterinary College's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses coordinate an educational site, called Worms & Germs, which focuses on infectious diseases of companion animals (household pets and horses), with an emphasis on zoonotic diseases - diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people.
Dr Weese posted regarding the WAHS kitten that, “… [U]nless the cat was exposed to rabies in the shelter (possible, but very unlikely), that means the incubation period was at least 6-7 months. That’s not unheard of, but it’s pretty long for a cat.”
Since Chance was estimated at only 7 months of age, according to Dr. Weese’s evaluation, he could have been infected prior to being weaned.
Dr. Weese states: “This situation shows how the 6-month quarantine that is used after exposure of unvaccinated animals is very reasonable, but still not a guarantee. It also shows how short-term isolation of animals in a shelter after arrival can’t guarantee there will be no rabies exposure (although it’s good for many other reasons).”
The Halifax County Animal Shelter in Virginia has just revised its adoption rules since sending a family home with a rabid dog last month.