Susan Gladin entered her yard in rural Orange County Monday to see her dog playing with a skunk. At first she thought it was cute, beautiful even, and snapped a picture of it. Then she called her dog and stepped off the porch. That’s when the skunk attacked.
“I’m a very experienced animal person and I was just blindsided by how quickly the thing moved,” she said.
The skunk scratched Gladin on the ankle, so she called 911. They put her through to Orange County Animal Services, who brought the animal to their lab. The skunk tested positive for rabies — the third positive test case this year.
Seeing this third case isn’t cause for alarm, said Orange County Community Relations Director Todd McGee. Instead, it provides an opportunity for education and awareness in the community about rabies, vaccinations and what to do after an encounter with a rabid animal.
Rabies affects the nervous system and gets transmitted through saliva or contact with nervous system tissue. In the southeastern United States, raccoons act as the host animal for the rabies virus. Other animals that contract the disease get infected due to scratches or bites from an infected host.
The number of rabies cases ebbs and flows, said Bob Marotto, director of Animal Services.
The lab saw six positive cases in 2016 and 10 positives in 2015. These totals are a significant decline from the 23 laboratory-positive cases in 2014.
The fluctuations are a result of changes in the raccoon population and therefore the genetic diversity, Marotto said. Changes in diversity include changes in the number of traits governing sufficient immunity to diseases like rabies.
Marotto said monitoring pets outside and getting them vaccinated will help with any size population of rabies-positive animals.
Animal Services requires rabies vaccinations for pets aged 4 months and older. The center offers $10 vaccinations at clinics throughout the year.
“We usually provide more than 1,000 vaccinations to dogs and cats through those clinics,” Marotto said.
If a vaccinated pet interacts with a potentially rabid animal, it receives a booster shot and is quarantined from other animals. In the same situation, an unvaccinated pet must be quarantined for four months or euthanized.
Humans who think they’ve been exposed to rabies should call 911. Seeing a bat flying around the house or shooting a wild animal can indicate exposure. Taking action is key, for though symptoms only show after three to eight weeks, the first preventative shot must be taken within 48 hours of exposure.
Gladin said she was pleased with the immediacy and thoroughness of the response she got from Animal Services and the Orange County Health Department. After the incident, her dog, which was already vaccinated, got a booster shot. Gladin began her own series of shots Tuesday, a treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis.
The Orange County Health Department does not administer the PEP treatment, so patients must go to the emergency room at the hospital.
Stacy Shelp, communications manager of the Orange County Health Department, said the cost of the treatment depends on a patient’s insurance, but hospitals in the area have programs to help with bills.
Overall, Shelp and Marotto stressed the importance of vaccination to keeping rabies cases at bay in the community.
“It keeps your pets with you,” Shelp said.