|By KEVIN WALKER
LANSING, Mich. — In light of a recent finding that four horses have contracted rabies so far this year, state officials are urging horse owners to make sure their animals are vaccinated against the disease, and, if they have been vaccinated, that their immunizations are up-to-date.
The rabid horses were discovered in Washtenaw, Oakland and Sanilac counties last February, April, May and June, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Two of the cases were discovered in Oakland County.
“I don’t know that we’ve had this number of horse cases so early in the year,” said Thomas Cooley, a wildlife biologist at the DNR.
Two of the horses displayed an aggressive form of rabies, while a third showed signs of paralysis.
State officials determined that two of the horses contracted the disease through skunk bites, while testing is still being conducted to determine the source of the disease in the third and fourth animals.
“All four were exposed to the north-central skunk strain, which would indicate it was a skunk most likely,” Cooley said.
Officials at the DNR believe that the mild winter, combined with an early warm spring, made conditions right for increased skunk activity earlier in the year than is typical.
To illustrate the seriousness of this disease, the MDA, on its website, recounts an outbreak of rabies in July 1998 at Cherry Hill Park campgrounds in College Park, Md.
A cat that was found to have rabies bit or scratched at least six people, and also gave birth to kittens, which in turn might have exposed others. At least 450 families, including 14 from Michigan, visited the campground while the cat and its kittens were there. By the end of the investigation, 12 people were thought to have been exposed and were given rabies shots.
In 2005, 41 cases of rabies were diagnosed in Michigan: these included 28 bats, seven skunks, four cats, one fox and one sheep.
Cooley noted that it’s unusual for a sheep to get rabies. So far this year there have been 10 bats and one skunk diagnosed with rabies, in addition to the four horses.
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 a veterinarian about vaccinating sheep and cattle against rabies; if bitten by a wild animal – especially a bat, skunk, raccoon, or fox – or a dog, cat, ferret, or farm animal, call a doctor, local animal control agency and local health department.
This farm news was published in the June 28, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.