Official: No rabies reported locally, but still cause for concern in area

Although cases of rabies in humans are rare, each year there are reports of animals exhibiting strange behavior, which through testing is confirmed as rabies.

So far this year, there have been no cases reported in Lycoming County, according to Will Nichols, press officer for the state Department of Agriculture.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They just haven’t been reported and tested by the department,” he said.

Last year in the state there were a total of 347 cases reported in animals. As of July 2018, there were 180 cases of rabies in animals confirmed statewide.

According to the department’s website, animals most frequently affected are raccoons, skunks, foxes, cats and bats.

Rabies is a virus of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. It can affect any mammal. It is widespread throughout the state, but the southeastern section of the state had more reported cases in 2017.

Last year, there was a fatal human case of rabies in Delaware where the woman contracted the disease from an unknown source. Nichols noted that until that case, there hadn’t been a fatal case of rabies in this country in decades.

One way to prevent rabies exposure to humans is to vaccinate dogs and domestic cats, Nichols said.

“We caution that a state law exists for a reason,” he said. “It keeps them (the animals) safe and it keeps you safe.”

Symptoms of rabies are divided into two forms: furious and paralytic, according to the department’s website. Some of the things to look for, if you think an animal has the furious form of rabies, are aggression, daytime activity by a nocturnal species, loss of fear, attraction to noise and human activity and excessive vocalization. The drooling that is most commonly thought of as a symptom of rabies is not always present.

The paralytic form symptoms include decreased activity, poor coordination, acting dull, hind limb weakness and in cats, excessive meowing. This form of rabies can progress to drooling, drop in the lower jaw, inability to swallow, paralysis and eventually death.

If a human is bitten or scratched or exposed to the saliva of an animal exhibiting any of these signs, it is important to seek help. By law, all animal bites in the state must be reported to the state Department of Health. If the animal involved is a wild animal, it should be tested for rabies. This is usually done by euthanizing it.

In the case of human contact with a rabid wild animal, the state Game Commission will transport the animal for testing, although it is just a courier, according to Tony Ross, regional biologist for the commission.

“We don’t do the testing,” Ross said, “but we can have an officer go to the house and pick up the animal.”

A domestic animal that is exposed to a rabid animal must be quarantined for a period of time depending on whether they have been vaccinated and when.

Nichols noted it is best to stay away from any animal exhibiting strange behavior.

“Don’t take in non-domesticated animals that are lethargic,” he said. “If it acts strange, stay away. Don’t feed feral cats. Cat colonies can be a harbor of rabies.”

If a human exposure to an animal that tests positive for rabies does occur, post exposure prophylaxis vaccinations are recommended, according to the state Department of Health.