People who may have been exposed to a rabid cat in Jamestown last month should contact the North Dakota State Department of Health.
The cat was found Nov. 30 by local animal control authorities close to the Tesoro gas station at 2015 Eighth Avenue S.W. in Jamestown. The adult female cat was an orange and white tabby with long hair and was declawed.
The cat tested positive for rabies at the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Laboratory Services on Dec. 6.
Jennifer Fischer, veterinarian at Valley Veterinarian Hospital, said if a pet has had a rabies shot, it’s probably okay, but people who have been exposed should contact their physician.
Rabies is a viral infection that affects mammals, including people. It can be transmitted through bites and saliva exposure to open cuts and wounds or saliva contact with mucous membranes such as the eyes or mouth. The virus causes swelling of the brain and is almost always fatal.
Although Fischer said the rabies virus is pretty fragile and unstable out of saliva blood, it’s still not something that should be treated lightly.
It’s important to get animals vaccinated for rabies “because it’s a fatal disease transportable to humans. Basically no one survives rabies. Once you show signs, it’s fatal,” Fisher said.
“If you don’t get treatment right away, you’re not going to stop the disease,” she said.
Symptoms of rabies in animals vary but Fischer said an animal acting abnormal is a common symptom. “Whether it’s a friendly cat that’s now standoffish or a standoffish cat that is now friendly,” Fischer said as an example.
Tracy Miller, State Epidemiologist for the North Dakota Department of Health, said that another common sign of rabies is what she called the “Old Yeller situation,” where a dog, as shown in the popular movie, Old Yeller, acts aggressively, drooling and snarling.
But regardless, “you’re going to see change in behavior because it (the virus) affects the nervous system and brain,” Miller said.
The time it takes for symptoms to start showing varies on where the bite was. The closer it is to the brain, the quicker symptoms will show. If an animal was bitten on its tail, symptoms will take longer to show than from that of a bite on the face.
The disease will eventually lead to paralysis and death, Fisher said.
Miller, said most symptoms take a while to develop in humans, typically a couple weeks or more. Symptoms vary but can include difficulty swallowing.
A person who gets bit by a dog, for instance, does have a small window to see if that dog develops symptoms, according to Miller. If it doesn’t the person does not have to get treated.
If a person has been exposed to rabies virus, however, it is still treatable before symptoms have been exposed. Once symptoms have shown, though, it’s almost 100 percent fatal, Miller said.
According to Miller, a vaccine given after exposure ranges from $2,500-$5,000, which is over 100 times more than the cost of a vaccine for animals, which ranges from $25 to $50.
Miller said the number of rabies cases seen each year in North Dakota varies, but as of September, 58 cases have been reported.
“Predominately what we see is skunks. Of those 58, 39 have been skunks, but we have seen three other cats,” Miller said.
The data is from the State Department of Health Division of Microbiology and the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the two labs in the state that test for rabies.
Miller said the number of rabies cases in domestic animals has gone down over the years, likely due to more people vaccinating, but every year “we still see domestic animals” with rabies.
Miller advises all pet owners to vaccinate their animals against rabies to protect the animals and owners.
It is not known who owned the cat, or if the cat was from Jamestown or dropped off there. Anybody missing a cat matching the description or who may have information about this cat should contact the North Dakota Department of Health. Pet owners who believe one of their pets may have been exposed to the rabid cat should contact their local veterinarian or the State Veterinarian’s office.
Anybody who was bitten or otherwise exposed to the saliva of this animal should contact their healthcare provider and the North Dakota Department of Health immediately to determine the need to receive preventive treatment for rabies.
For more information, contact the North Dakota Department of Health at (800) 472-2180 or the State Veterinarian’s Office at (701) 328-2655.