The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is looking for anyone who had direct contact with a rabid kitten found in the area of N.W. 10th and Purdue Street near the Central Oklahoma Winnelson Company on or around June 8.

Image/ZooFari via wikimedia commons
Image/ZooFari via wikimedia commons

The kitten was orange and white in color and was about 6-8 weeks old. It was flea-infested, and had an unsteady gait, matted eyes, and drainage from the eyes and nose. The animal died June 11. Testing at the OSDH Public Health Laboratory later confirmed the presence of rabies.

Public health officials are advising anyone who may have been bitten, or who may have come in direct contact with the kitten between May 29 and June 8 to contact the OSDH epidemiologist-on-call at (405) 271-4060 or (800) 234-5963 (24/7 availability).

Health officials want to assess a person’s potential exposure to the kitten and provide recommendations for post-exposure immunizations as indicated. A person who was bitten or had the kitten’s saliva exposed to a fresh skin wound or the eyes, nose or mouth may have been exposed to the rabies virus.

In Oklahoma, the primary carriers of rabies are skunks and bats. Rabies from infected wildlife can spread to dogs, cats, livestock and other warm-blooded animals if they are not vaccinated against rabies and are bitten by a rabid animal. As of June 14, there have been 32 cases of animal rabies, including six cats, statewide since the beginning of the year. This kitten is the first rabid animal identified in Oklahoma County in 2017. There were seven rabid animals identified in Oklahoma County in 2016.

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes.

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.

LISTEN: Rabies: A comprehensive interview with Pamela Wilson

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. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.

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

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