FLEETWOOD-At least two people are being treated for exposure to rabies after being bitten last week by a rabid dog in Fleetwood.
That’s according to the Director of Ashe County Animal Control Joe Testerman.
Testerman, along with the Appalachian District Health Department and the Ashe County Emergency Management office, issued a public health alert on Feb. 2, related to a dog in and around the Trojan Horse Circle neighborhood that had contracted the virus.
The agencies said anyone who’d had contact with the dog, described as a 40-pound black and tan Rottweiler hound mix, from Jan. 15-30 should contact the Appalachian District Health Department.
That number turned out to include two people who Testerman said were bitten by the dog in question.
“We received an after hours emergency call on Jan. 31 that there’d been a dog bite,” Testerman said. “Further investigation found that the dog had actually attacked two folks on Trojan Horse Road.”
Testerman said state law requires animal control agencies to quarantine and observe suspected rabies cases for 10 days. The black and tan dog was taken to the county’s animal shelter and within hours, the previously aggressive dog had become lethargic and could barely pick its head up Testerman said.
The agency received authorization from state officials to euthanize the animal and begin the post-mortem rabies test which Testerman said involves taking a brain sample from the animal.
“It wasn’t long before we had confirmation the dog was, in fact, rabid,” Testerman said.
Testerman said his staff and health department officials personally contacted each member of the subdivision who may have been exposed to dog, and he said the individuals bitten by the dog were referred to health department staff. Both started post-exposure rabies treatment.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, rabies post-exposure vaccinations consist of a dose of human rabies immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine given on the day of the exposure, and then again on days three, seven and 14.”
“The vaccine is given in a muscle, usually the upper arm,” according to the CDC. “This set of vaccinations is highly effective at preventing rabies if given as soon as possible following an exposure.”
State law requires vaccinations
But the fallout from the rabid pooch in the Trojan Horse Circle community is still ongoing, Testerman said.
State law requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies beginning at four months of age. That means the dog’s owners could have been charged criminally for the lapsed vaccination, but county ordinances give Testerman the latitude to issue a citation to the dog’s owner which is the course of action he took.
But because rabies can be spread so easily, he said it was urgent to find out if other pets in the neighborhood might have been exposed.
Testerman said he and his staff visited 41 homes and checked vaccination records of neighborhood pets. Ashe County Animal Control ultimately ended up issuing several citations for non-vaccination, he said, and at least two high-risk animals were taken by animal control.
“Both were outside dogs that were unvaccinated and ran unmonitored,” Testerman said. “We had to assume that there’d been some contact with the sick animal.”
While animals in this situation are euthanized in many situations, Testerman said pets can be placed under observation for six months at an approved facility. That comes with a steep cost – about $1,800 for the entire half-year stay – but pets that haven’t developed rabies after that time can be released to their owner.
“That’s the route the owner of one of the dogs we picked up decided to go,” Testerman said.
He said the number of confirmed cases of rabid animals his agency has worked with over the past year have been low, but that’s a statistic that can be deceiving.
“We’ve actually collected a lot of wildlife that were suspected to be rabid over the past year,” Testerman said. “If you called 911 this evening and asked us to come out and collect something you think might be rabid, unless there has been some kind of human or domestic animal exposure, we can’t test it. Since that’s the case in the majority of those kinds of calls, we can’t be 100 percent certain those animals were sick. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.”
“Rabies is a terrible, but preventable disease that can be fatal if not treated promptly, and contact with stray animals may put you and your family at risk,” according to a release issued by the Appalachian District Health Department on Feb. 2. “If you determine there is a stray animal in your area, contact your animal control office for further guidance. It is best to be cautious and avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals. Even when a pet may look healthy, the risk of rabies may still exist. Please spay and neuter your pets and keep their rabies vaccination up to date.”
For additional information about Appalachian District Health Department, please call 336-246-9449 or visit our website at www.apphealth.com. Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.