The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 3rd

Rabies cases rise from last year, two cases reported since beginning of 2011

After reporting the second positive rabies case of 2011 last week, Orange County has seen two more cases than this time last year.

County Animal Services Director Bob Marotto said although the number of rabies cases have been low in recent years, an upswing is possible.

“Just because there has been a lower number of rabies in the past few years, it should be understood that we are just in a trough,” Marotto said.

“We have every reason to believe that at some point in the very near future the number of confirmed rabies cases is going to increase.”

During 2009 and 2010, Orange County saw a 50 percent reduction in the number of positive rabies cases from 2008— falling to 11 cases from 22.

Because rabies is known to go through cycles of intensity, Marotto said the community needs to remain vigilant in its surveillance and control of the disease.

Chapel Hill Veterinarian Debbie Stine, who recently worked with the N.C. Center for Health Statistics to study the progression of rabies, said she has never seen a positive rabies case in her practice, but many of her clients bring in their pets because they believe their animal may have contracted the disease.

“What we normally see are people who have a pet that has been bitten by wild animal,” she said.

Although a positive rabies case can only be diagnosed after a complete necropsy is performed, Stine said there are a few clear warning signs that a pet has contracted rabies, including aggressive behavior and foaming at the mouth.

Stine also said seeing nocturnal animals during the day could be a sign of rabies.

“It is important to keep your pets vaccinated, especially if you think your pet could be around an infected wild animal,” she said.

N.C. law mandates that all pets be vaccinated both three months and one year after birth. Then, the pet must receive a booster shot every three years or after coming in contact with a wild animal.

N.C. Public Health Veterinarian Marilyn Goss Haskell said raccoons are the main carriers of rabies, and they have the most direct impact on the disease’s cycle.

This cycle can be affected by the density of an area’s raccoon population, the number of native raccoons in an area and the extent to which humans and raccoons come in contact.

Haskell said it is hard to say why Orange County has seen a decrease in rabies cases during recent years because the reports are not part of a controlled scientific study.

“We will have to see what the data tell us this year,” she said.

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