A stray three-month-old kitten with a soft spot for strangers was noticed Sunday by a State College family and was welcomed Monday into their home off West Whitehall Road.
A perfect match seemed possible, but something was off. They took their new pet to University Drive Veterinary Hospital on Monday, where Dr. Sue Lincoski observed signs pointing toward rabies — the kitten was very vocal, had trouble walking and was agitated. She discussed quarantine versus euthanasia with the owner, and they decided on the latter.
The kitten was put down and later confirmed to be the 16th case of rabies, and the first of a domestic animal, in Centre County this year. It is the first time in 18 years Lincoski has examined a domestic animal with rabies. The kitten was likely part of a stray litter in the area of Whitehall Road, she said.
The county leads the state in rabies cases in 2017. Montgomery, Chester and Allegheny counties have the next highest totals with 13 reported cases through September.
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Two people are receiving post-exposure rabies treatment in Centre County, in connection with the case of the kitten.
“The kitten was very friendly and followed a girl riding on her bike, and it wanted attention,” Lincoski said.
The attention-seeking nature of the kitten was the first sign something might not be right, according to Lincoski, who said a stray cat would typically be skittish and weary of people.
Lincoski also pointed to a recent case in which a friendly skunk approached two people and rubbed against their legs. The people stayed still so as to not agitate the animal and get sprayed, but it suddenly bit them without provocation.
Behavioral symptoms may also include witnessing a nocturnal animal being outside during daylight. Signs of rabies may progress into cerebral dysfunction, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing and swallowing and excessive salivation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anyone who witnesses an animal that might exhibit rabies symptoms should call police or animal control. The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva or brain/nervous system tissue. According to the CDC, you can only get rabies by coming in contact with these specific bodily excretions and tissues. You cannot get rabies from petting or handling an animal, or contact with blood, urine or feces.
If you think you’ve been exposed, seek medical attention immediately. Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, according to the CDC, including fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
Any mammal can get rabies, but the most common wild animals with rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. Bites by some animals, such as bats, can be minor injury and difficult to detect.
Animals suspected of rabies are euthanized and sent to a lab for a direct fluorescent antibody test. Rabies is present in nervous system tissue, making the brain the ideal location for testing. A dye used in the test reveals whether an animal has rabies.
Lincoski said it is law for all dogs and cats, including indoor-only cats, to be vaccinated because of potential rabies risk to humans. Failure to vaccinate pets may result in a fine.
Have you been exposed?
The CDC offers the following advice for anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to rabies, a virus that is transmitted through saliva or brain/nervous system tissue.
▪ Wash any wounds immediately. According to the CDC, one of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
▪ See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination. Your doctor, possibly in consultation with your state or local health department, will decide if you need a rabies vaccination.
▪ Decisions to start vaccination, known as postexposure prophylaxis, will be based on your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.
▪ Rabies in humans is 100 percent preventable through prompt appropriate medical care.
▪ For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html