For Immediate Release
March 18, 2009
Public Information Officer
Montana Department ofLivestock
Sweetgrass County Rabies Quarantine Extended
A rabies quarantine in Sweetgrass County has been extended through May 18 after four dogs and two cats were potentially exposed to the disease by an infected skunk. The county was originally quarantined on February 13 after a skunk that tested positive for the disease was killed by two pet dogs.
Under Montana law, counties are quarantined for 60 days when rabies is confirmed in a terrestrial animal such as a dog, cat, skunk or fox. All unvaccinated dogs, cats and ferrets in quarantined counties must be vaccinated a minimum of two weeks prior to any travel outside the quarantined county.
Two of the dogs that were potentially exposed to the disease were not current on rabies vaccinations. According to Montana law, unvaccinated companion animals that are exposed or potentially exposed to the disease must, at the owner's expense, be euthanized or revaccinated and placed under a 180-day quarantine; the dogs' owners have opted for the 180-day quarantine.
The quarantine is the state's eighth this year, with five counties currently under quarantine: Sweetgrass, Dawson (expires March 28), Stillwater (expires April 13), Sweet Grass (expires April 14), Lewis & Clark (expires April 14), and Yellowstone (expires May 12). All eight of the quarantines involved potential exposures by infected skunks.
Dr. Marty Zaluski, state veterinarian, said rabies is endemic to Montana, and that the recent number of positive cases necessitates precaution on the part of pet owners.
"The 180-day quarantine could have been avoided if the dogs were current on rabies vaccinations," Zaluski said.
Rabies is a deadly but preventable viral disease that causes swelling of the brain in mammals, including humans. It is spread through bites or scratches from an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal unless treated before symptoms appear, but remains a rare event in humans.
Nationally, most reported rabies cases occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. In Montana, bats and skunks accounted for 13 of the 14 cases (93 percent) reported in 2008 and for 215 of the 235 cases (91 percent) of the cases reported since 2000. Rabies causes 1-2 deaths per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and globally accounts for more than 55,000 human deaths a year, mostly in Asia and Africa.
Rabies is highly preventable in domestic companion animals via an inexpensive vaccine that is required by law for dogs, cats and ferrets.
"Vaccination is an effective solution to protecting both human and animal health," said Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, a veterinarian for the Montana Department of Livestock.
Szymanski encouraged pet owners to keep their animals up to date on vaccinations, which must be administered every 1-3 years according to municipal or county ordinance. Pet owners can check with their veterinarian to determine local vaccination requirements.
Rabies is a mandatory reportable disease in Montana, and all suspected cases must be immediately reported to the State Veterinarian at 406/444-2043.
Abnormal behavior is the most consistent sign of rabies. Rabies can take on two forms in animals – dumb or furious. With the dumb form, animals become shy or hide, and are often unapproachable. They may also be sluggish and act depressed or confused. With the furious form, animals are excitable, irritable and act aggressively. These animals may attack suddenly when approached. Other signs of rabies include drooling; inability to eat, drink or swallow; frothing at the mouth; and staggering, weakness, convulsions and paralysis. Animals will normally become comatose prior to death.
Avoiding, and reporting, animals and wildlife that exhibit abnormal or unusual behavior protects people from the risk of rabies exposure.
Anyone who is bitten or scratched by an animal should thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical attention for the wound. Animal bites should be reported to the county health department (or County Sheriff's office after hours) as soon as possible.
For additional information on rabies, please consult your local public health department or see:
- Montana Department of Livestock, http://liv.mt.gov/liv/ah/diseases/rabies/general.asp
- Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, http://cdepi.hhs.mt.gov
- USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/oral_rabies/
- Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/