BELLOWS FALLS -- A local family is reportedly in good health after unofficially adopting a family of stray cats, one of which has died from a confirmed case of rabies.
According to Dr. Bob Johnson, Vermont’s state health veterinarian, a mother cat and four kittens were found in the village and taken in by a kind-hearted family a little over a month ago. After four to six weeks, however, one of the kittens became ill and lethargic and a member of the family brought it to the Rockingham Veterinary Clinic in Chester.
The feral kitten’s condition worsened and it died on Thursday. The cause of death was determined to be an open wound infected with rabies. The news prompted Rockingham Health Officer Ellen Howard to release information of the case for the public’s benefit.
According to a statement from Howard, the other kittens in the litter now must be confined and observed for a six-month period because they were in contact with the infected cat. She declined to identify the family.
The four veterinarians who handled the kitten now need to receive booster shot to their vaccines, Johnson said on Friday.
He added that the brain issue of the deceased feline will be sent to a laboratory in Albany, N.Y., to determine the precise strain of rabies.
Johnson said rabies is largely transmitted through bites but can also be transferred in wet, infectious saliva or by infected mucous membranes entering the eye, ear or mouth. He said the viral disease is 100-percent fatal in humans and is vaccine-preventable.
He said the Vermont Department of Health has seen about 1,000 cases of rabies in wild animals over the past 20 years. That is compared to 60 reported cases of infected domestic animals.
"There has not been a single human case, and we want to keep it that way," he said.
Howard said all residents should use caution in approaching animals, especially domestic animals they are not familiar with, or wild animals. Pets should be vaccinated against rabies.
"Don’t go near strays -- that’s the best advice I can give," she said.
Her statement said yards should not be made inviting to wild animals and pet food dishes should not left outside. Pets should be fed inside and be kept in at night to avoid encounters with animals possibly infected with the disease. Trash can lids need to be tightly closed and trash left for curb-side pickup should be in animal proof containers, according to Howard.
There is no animal control officer in Rockingham.
She said there have been a variety of confirmed rabies in her tenure as Rockingham health officer, mostly in skunks and raccoons. There was also a horse infected, as the case in the town. She said she always releases a statement if a case of rabies is confirmed.
"Unfortunately, rabies is here to stay in the state of Vermont," she said. "It’s not rare like was 50 years ago."
According to the Department of Health’s website, anyone bitten by an animal should wash the wound immediately and then contact a doctor.
The Vermont Rabies Hotline is 1-800-4-Rabies (1-800-472-2437).
If you think you have found orphaned wildlife, it is important not to touch the animal. Call the Hotline or your area game warden.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.