A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

Kitten Public domain image/Rosendahl

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick.

The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

To date, El Paso County Public Health has identified 20 individuals, including the family, who have possibly been exposed to the rabid kitten. They are being treated with preventive medication – a series of post-exposure vaccinations.

This is the first rabid domestic cat in El Paso County, Colorado, since 1966. Other animals that have tested positive for rabies in the county in recent years include: 2014: 10 (bats), 2013: 8 (4 bats, 2 foxes, 2 skunks), 2012: 3 (3 bats), 2011: 15 (5 bats, 1 fox, 9 skunks) and 2010: 17 (8 bats, 4 foxes, 5 skunks).

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptomsthen progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Although worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually,human rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States, which averages  less than five human rabies cases annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.

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