Rabies in Kentucky--2003 and 2004

In 2003, The Kentucky Department for Public Health Division of Laboratory Services and the Breathitt Veterinary Center received 1,217 animal specimens from Kentucky counties for rabies testing. There were 52 (4.3%) samples unsuitable for testing because of decomposition or extreme traumatic damage to the brain. There were 39 (3.2%) specimens that tested positive for rabies; only seven (17.9% of positives) cases were domestic animals, and the remaining 32 cases were wildlife.

The total of 39 rabies cases is 34% higher than the preceding five year mean of 29.1 animal rabies cases. There were five positive dogs compared to a mean of two positive dogs per year for the preceding five years. Two of the dogs were owned, unvaccinated adults, and three were pups less than 12 weeks. There should be no rabid adult dogs in Kentucky since there is a statewide law requiring rabies vaccination of all dogs by four months of age. Rabid domestic animals almost always result in multiple human exposures, necessitating expensive postexposure treatment.

The 2003 statewide distribution pattern of positive rabies cases shown in figure 2 might not be completely representative of rabies activity in the state; it might only reflect the distribution of samples submitted for testing. Almost all the samples submitted were due to some form of suspicious interaction between the animal tested and a human or domestic animal, and 88.5% of all submissions involved a bite or other physical contact with a human or other animal. For positive animals, 69.2% involved rabies exposure to a human or other animal. This possible exposure to rabid animals indicates the need for equine rabies vaccination.


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As expected, skunks accounted for the majority of rabies-positive animals in Kentucky. Unlike the states east of the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky does not have a raccoon rabies strain epizootic. The laboratories tested 128 raccoons in 2003, and only one was positive. This animal was not strain typed but came from the far western part of the state, and the rabies infection is most likely to be skunk or bat strain. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider Kentucky at risk for the introduction of the raccoon rabies variant from West Virginia. Multiple federal and state agencies are actively engaged in preventing the spread of raccoon rabies westward from states in which it is already epizootic.

In 2004, there have been 18 rabies cases in Kentucky as of Aug. 24. In February 2004, one horse in Marion County tested positive for rabies. Of the 18 rabies cases, there were 11 skunks, five bats, one dog, and one horse.

Additionally, the 2004 Kentucky legislature passed a bill requiring all cats and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies. This includes barn cats. Mandatory rabies vaccination of dogs, cats, and ferrets provides another layer of protection between wildlife reservoirs of the deadly virus and people as well as horses.

From Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

CONTACT: Michael Auslander, DVM, MSPH, 502/564 3418; Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning, Frankfort, Ky.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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