Equine Rabies Cases Reported in Michigan

Horse Owners Reminded to Take Precautions


The Michigan Departments of Agriculture (MDA), Natural Resources and Community Health are reminding horse owners to vaccinate their animals against rabies. The reminder is prompted by recent detection of rabies in three Michigan horses not immunized against the disease.    


"Rabies is rarely diagnosed in Michigan livestock other than horses," said Dr. Steve Halstead, MDA state veterinarian. "Owners are strongly encouraged to take precautions against this and other avoidable diseases by keeping immunizations up-to-date."


The rabid horses were diagnosed in the counties of Washtenaw, Oakland, and Sanilac in February, April, and May, respectively. Two horses displayed an aggressive form of rabies, while the other showed signs of paralysis. State health experts have determined that the first two horses contracted rabies through skunk bites. Testing to determine the source of exposure to the third horse is underway. All individuals who handled the horses are receiving post-exposure treatment.  


"We know that skunk strain rabies exists in Michigan, especially on the east side of the state," said Dr. Steve Schmitt, veterinarian with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  "With the mild winter, and an early warm spring, skunks are active earlier in the year than is typical."


Rabies is a fatal disease most often transmitted via the bite of an infected animal. In 2005, there were 41 cases of rabies in Michigan.  Animals diagnosed were 28 bats, seven skunks, four cats, one fox, and one sheep. In 2006 to date, there have been three horses, ten bats, and one skunk diagnosed with rabies.  


"Because rabies is so very serious, we should take all reasonable steps to prevent rabies exposure to people," said Dr. Mary Grace Stobierski, State Public Health Veterinarian with the Michigan Department of Community Health.


State officials recommend the following to prevent rabies:


·                    Never approach or handle wildlife.

·                    Do not approach or handle unfamiliar dogs or cats.

·                    Have dogs, cats, ferrets and horses vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian.

·                    Consult your veterinarian about vaccinating sheep and cattle against rabies.

·                    If you are bitten by a wild animal (especially a bat, skunk, raccoon, or fox) or a dog, cat, ferret, or farm animal, contact your physician, local animal control agency and local health department.


For more information about rabies, contact your veterinarian or local health department, or visit www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases.

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