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Dog tests positive for rabies in Big Horn County

Rabies CDC
Posted at 12:09 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-24 12:00:32-05

GREAT FALLS — The Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) received confirmation on December 17, 2021, of the fifth case of terrestrial (non-bat) rabies in the state this year.

The rabies-infected dog was in Big Horn County and was submitted for testing after it developed neurologic signs and later died.

The dog had been in contact with a skunk five weeks earlier, where it is assumed to have been exposed to the rabies virus. This is the 20th case of rabies in Montana this year.

The DOL says that while the disease is highly preventable in domestic animals through the administration of rabies vaccine, cases involving vaccinated animals do occur on occasion. The dog in this situation was previously vaccinated though was not current on vaccinations.

"This case should catch the attention of Montana animal owners,” says Dr. Anna Forseth with the Department of Livestock. “A single dose of vaccine is unlikely to protect an animal for their entire life. Booster shots are needed to sustain a strong immunity, especially when exposed to rabid wildlife species."

In response to the diagnosis, MDOL has issued a 60 day county-wide quarantine in Big Horn County for dogs, ,cats and ferrets that are not currently vaccinated for rabies. The quarantine is in effect from the date of the skunk exposure (November 15), until Saturday, January 14, 2022.

Animals that are past due for a rabies vaccine booster, animals that are not 28 days past the date of first vaccine administration, and animals that have never been vaccinated are all subject to the quarantine. Click here for more information on the MT DOL website.

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that can spread through the saliva of an infected animal. Residents should check the rabies vaccination status of all animals and report any contact between a pet and a wild animal, including skunks and bats, to their veterinarian or the MDOL to ensure potential rabies exposure are assessed for risk and managed accordingly.

From the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website:

Rabies affects only mammals. Mammals are warm-blooded animals with fur. People are also mammals. Birds, snakes, and fish are not mammals, so they can’t get rabies and they can’t give it to you. But any mammal can get rabies, including people. While rabies is rare in people in the United States, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually, about 55,000 Americans get post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) each year to prevent rabies infection after being bitten or scratched by an infected or suspected infected animal.

In the United States, more than 90% of reported cases of rabies in animals occur in wildlife. The wild animals that most commonly carry rabies in the United States are raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Contact with infected bats is the leading cause of human rabies deaths in this country; 7 out of 10 Americans who die from rabies in the US were infected by bats. People may not recognize a bat scratch or bite, which can be smaller than the top of a pencil eraser, but these types of contact can still spread rabies.

Pets (like cats and dogs) and livestock (like cattle and horses) can also get rabies. Nearly all the pets and livestock that get rabies had not received vaccination or were not up to date on rabies vaccination. Most pets get rabies from having contact with wildlife.

Because of laws requiring dogs to be vaccinated for rabies in the United States, dogs make up only about 1% of rabid animals reported each year in this country. However, dog rabies remains common in many countries. Exposure to rabid dogs is still the cause of nearly all human rabies deaths worldwide. Exposure to rabid dogs outside the US is the second leading cause of rabies deaths in Americans.