Mississippi health officials are reporting the first case of rabies in a land animal in the state in 54 years. The case was identified in a feral cat in Starkville described as a small, black and white kitten.

Image/C. E. Price

Exposures to the rabid cat were reported in downtown Starkville and in a remote area in the general vicinity of developed portions of the Thad Cochran Research Park near the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU).

Testing of the cat’s brain tissue at the Mississippi Public Health Laboratory confirmed that the cat was infected with rabies. Rabies is commonly found in bats in Mississippi and has been found in feral and wild animals in bordering states in previous years.

Health officials urge anyone who may have been bitten or scratched by a feral (wild) cat matching this description in either of these areas within the past 10 days to immediately contact their primary healthcare provider and the MSDH Office of Epidemiology at 601-576-7725. At this time there is no ongoing public health risk.

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes,bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likelysuspects. 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 veryaggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they arefoaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva.Sometimesthe 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. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Mississippians can help protect themselves against rabies by taking the following precautions:

  • Do not handle or touch live or dead feral animals, animals you do not know, or wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and coyotes that can carry rabies.
  • If you see an animal acting strangely, contact your local Animal Control officials.
  • Vaccinate animals when your dog or cat has reached 3 months of age, one year later, and every three years thereafter (using a vaccine approved with 3 year immunity), as required by state law.