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Yellowstone County quarantined for rabies

Yellowstone County (MT) has been placed under a rabies quarantine, effective June 3, after the disease was confirmed in a horse in Worden, and an epidemiologic investigation is underway to determine if other animals, or humans, located on the premise were exposed to the disease by the infected horse.

Under Montana law, counties are quarantined when rabies is confirmed in a terrestrial animal such as a dog, cat, skunk or fox. All unvaccinated dogs, cats and ferrets in quarantined counties must be vaccinated a minimum of two weeks prior to any travel outside the quarantined county. The quarantine will remain in place for 60 days.

Dr. Marty Zaluski, state veterinarian, said rabies is endemic to Montana and generally surfaces in late spring and early summer.



“It’s the time of year when pet and livestock owners need to be vigilant and take proper precautions,” Zaluski said. “Unusual behavior, such as abnormal motor skills (staggering, walking in circles, etc.), being out in daylight hours and showing no fear of humans, are classic signs of the disease and should always send up a red flag.”

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that causes swelling of the brain in mammals, including humans. It is spread through saliva, bites or scratches from an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal unless treated before symptoms appear, but remains a rare event in humans.



Abnormal behavior is the most consistent sign of the disease. Rabies can take on two forms in animals – dumb or furious. With the dumb form, animals become shy or hide, and are often unapproachable. They may also be sluggish and act depressed or confused. With the furious form, animals are excitable, irritable and act aggressively. These animals may attack suddenly when approached. Other signs of rabies include drooling; inability to eat, drink or swallow; frothing at the mouth; and staggering, weakness, convulsions and paralysis. Animals will normally become comatose prior to death.

Nationally, most reported rabies cases occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. In Montana, bats and skunks accounted for more than 90 percent of the cases reported since 2000. Rabies causes 1-2 deaths per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and globally accounts for more than 55,000 human deaths a year, mostly in Asia and Africa.

Rabies is highly preventable in domestic companion animals and livestock via an inexpensive and effective vaccine that is required by law for dogs, cats and ferrets. Pet owners are encouraged to keep their animals up to date on vaccinations, which must be administered every 1-3 years according to municipal or county ordinance. Pet owners should consult with their veterinarian to determine local vaccination requirements.

Avoiding, and reporting to local authorities, animals and wildlife that exhibit abnormal or unusual behavior protects people from the risk of rabies exposure. Rabies is a mandatory reportable disease in Montana, and all suspected cases must be immediately reported to the State Veterinarian at 406/444-2043.

Anyone who is bitten or scratched by an animal should thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical attention for the wound. Animal bites should be reported to the county health department (or County Sheriff’s office after hours) as soon as possible.

Yellowstone County has been quarantined for rabies eight times since late 2008, Zaluski said, mostly due to skunks in the Billings Heights area of Billings. To report a potentially rabid animal in Yellowstone County, contact the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office at 406/256-2958; Billings residents should contact Billings Animal Control at 406/256-2958.

For additional information on rabies, please consult your local public health department or see:

• Montana Department of Livestock, http://liv.mt.gov/liv/ah/diseases/rabies/general.asp

• Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, http://cdepi.hhs.mt.gov

• USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/oral_rabies/

• Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/


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