Rabies: A Persisting Threat

     According to an article in the Rutland Herald on Saturday, February 22nd a bobcat was shot and killed outside a residence on Cold River Rd. in the town of Clarendon, VT, just south of Rutland. The animal was exhibiting odd behavior and had attacked several cats in the area. The bobcat tested positive for rabies.
     When I was a kid rabies was big news. I lived in a rural community in central New York and foxes, skunks and raccoons were common sites. Over a period of a few years there had been several confirmed instances of animals, both wild and domestic, testing positive for the disease. Concern grew to the point of having special safety presentations at my elementary school, complete with information packets to take home to our parents. My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside and we developed an acute awareness of our surroundings, at least insofar as wildlife was concerned. From time to time would hear an animal in the bushes or spot a fox along the wood line and run in the house for fear of getting attacked.
     The general attitude has changed a bit since then. Society doesn’t seem quite as scared of rabies as it once was. It seems that much of the sensationalism and paranoia has died down, and been replaced by a rational, vigilant calm. The incident in Clarendon seems to bear this out. When Steven Pomerleau, the man who shot the bobcat, first encountered it outside his house, his initial reaction was marked by hesitance. He did not want to shoot the animal but after bearing witness to aggressive, suspicious behavior he decided to act.
     This trend makes sense considering increased efforts toward information dissemination. Mass vaccinations of dogs, historically one of the most common vector species, has drastically cut down on the spread of rabies and general awareness has no doubt prompted many people to act quickly when noting a suspect animal or being bitten by an animal they are not familiar with.
     My own disposition toward rabies and the animals that carry it has changed as well. I can’t recall the last time encountering a rabid animal was at the forefront of my mind while I was afield. I have seen many foxes, several skunks, and a few raccoons, possums and coyotes while spending time outdoors and have never observed any unusual behavior.
     But the possibility of rabies still lingers, and anyone who spends time outdoors should be aware of this. The Vermont Department of Health has several initiatives to spread awareness of the disease, and to help stop it’s spread. Among them are vaccination clinics for pets, numerous documents, many of which are available electronically, regarding preventative measures and a hotline (1-800-472-2437 (1-800-4-RABIES) 1-802-223-8697).
      One of the more interesting means of combating this disease is the “rabies vaccination bait drop,” which consists of small baits laced with rabies vaccine air-dropped in rural areas and placed by hand in urban settings. This effort is targeted specifically at raccoons and usually takes place in August (Vermont Department of Health website).
     Common sense goes a long way to curb the spread of rabies. If a wild animal is acting strange it is always best to leave it alone and report it if it is aggressive or acts disoriented. If a domestic animal is injured by a wild animal that is not available for testing it is always best to err on the side of caution. This is frequently the best preventative measure of all.

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