Rabies exposure danger hits close to home
By LPR Staff
Despite state, county and local laws requiring it, many pet owners believe it is not necessary to vaccinate their indoor pets against rabies. Luling veterinarian Elizabeth Beck experienced a situation last month that calls that notion into question.
“We”ve had bats in the attic for years,” Beck said. “We don”t think much
about it. Last month, my indoor cat killed one and left it at the front door for me.”
As anyone should when they come across a dead bat, Beck had the animal tested for rabies. The tests came back “positive.”
“[My family, our pets and I] are under a 45-day quarantine,” she said. “And we all had to get rabies boosters.”
Beck suspects the bat may have gotten indoors by crawling under a space in the door. The situation, she said, is not uncommon in this area.
“We have had similar situations [at Beck”s veterinary clinic], and I know of at least one other case, just like mine, in the last few weeks,” she said.
Beck said the danger comes with the fact that bats are nocturnal by nature, and people do not always know if they have contact with the diseased animals. Bats may bite or land while people or pets are sleeping, and exposure to rabies may not be immediately visible.
“We”ve seen cases where people raise raccoons or skunks as pets, and they have no signs of carrying rabies for more than a year,” she said. “Then, all of a sudden, they start displaying signs of the disease.”
Pets who have been vaccinated for rabies should only require booster shots to protect them from contracting the disease after contact with an infected animal, but for humans, the treatment could be more difficult. Vaccination consists of a series of six shots within a 30-day period.
“If you have the immunoglobulin in your system, it helps to fight the infection,” Beck said. As a veterinarian, she has been vaccinated for rabies, but did require boosters to protect her from the potentially fatal disease.
Rabies, if left untreated, has the potential to kill infected humans or animals within 10 days, so reporting possible exposure to health authorities immediately is critical. Beck said anyone who finds a dead bat in or near their home, that they or their pets may have had access to, should call animal control or their veterinarian immediately.
“[They] can get the animal to the lab and have it tested, and if it is a carrier, the treatment can begin as soon as possible,” she suggested.
In addition, pets should be watched for early warning signs of rabies, which include lethargy, stumbling and acting “not quite right.”
“If they get infected, they won”t always start acting “crazy” or foaming at the mouth,” she said. “The signs can be more subtle… they just don”t act quite right.”
While the problem could be common, Beck said, there is no reason to be concerned about a “rampant outbreak” of rabies. While the disease may easily be passed between animals in a colony, that is not always the case. In the last year, there have been only a handful of confirmed cases of rabies in Caldwell County.
For information or to report a possible rabies contamination, contact an area veterinarian, the Lockhart-Caldwell County Animal Shelter at 376-3336 or Caldwell County Animal Control Officer Tommy Cooper at (512) 398-6777.