Tracking Rabies in Kentucky

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.


Rabies Map

In 2006, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Division of Laboratory Services (Frankfort) and the Breathitt Veterinary Center (Hopkinsville) received 1,126 animal specimens for rabies testing. Of these, 77 (6.8%) were unsuitable for testing because of decomposition or extreme trauma to the brain. The distribution of rabies-positive animals is shown at right.

This statewide distribution of rabies cases may not be representative of the true incidence of rabies, since detection depends upon submission of proper samples to a testing laboratory. Almost all of the samples received were a result of suspicious behavior of the animal in connection with a human being or domestic animal.

Of the 1,126 animals submitted, 30 proved to be rabies positive. Of these rabid animal cases, 24 involved a bite or physical contact with a human or domestic animal. While skunk is the predominant rabies variant in Kentucky, the raccoon variant responsible for the Mid-Atlantic states' rabies epizootic is present in adjoining West Virginia and Tennessee. Multiple federal and state agencies are actively involved in preventing the spread of raccoon rabies into Kentucky.

2007 Update

As of May 17, 2007, seven cases of animal rabies have been confirmed in six Kentucky counties. The animals included three dogs, two horses, one bat, and one skunk. Human exposure to the rabid animals was involved in four cases (including one horse), with one animal exposure.

Domestic animal rabies cases and human exposures emphasize the need for rabies vaccination. Licensed rabies vaccines are available for horses, dogs, cats, ferrets, cattle, and sheep. Kentucky state law requires that dogs, cats, and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age.

The human post-exposure rabies vaccination regimen is five doses of vaccine over 28 days plus a rabies immunoglobulin shot; no such treatment is available for unvaccinated, rabies-exposed animals. The human post-exposure series costs approximately $1,500, not including medical visits and administration. Vaccination of domestic animals, by comparison, is extremely inexpensive.

CONTACT: Dr. Michael Auslander, 502/564-3418,, State Public Health Veterinarian, Kentucky Department for Public Health, Frankfort, Kentucky.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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