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Framingham officials warn residents who came into contact with rabid cat

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  December 28, 2012 02:57 PM

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The Framingham Board of Health is warning local residents that a cat found roaming the Vernon Street area of Framingham last week has rabies, and are encouraging anyone bitten or scratched by the animal to get medical treatment and contact the health board.

On Dec. 22, the cat bit one person, who is being treated, town officials said. The cat was tested Dec. 27 by the Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain and was confirmed positive for rabies, town officials said.

The cat was roaming around the Vernon Street area in the center of town between Dec. 15 and Dec. 22., and is described as a young adult domestic short-hair gray tiger.

Officials do not know if the cat was feral or domesticated.

This is the only case of a cat with rabies in Framingham in the past 20 years, officials said.

Dr. Al DeMaria, the state's epidemiologist, said a Cape Cod man was infected with rabies in December 2011. The man subsequently died this summer from the disease.

Before his diagnosis, the last known case in Massachusetts was in the 1930s, DeMaria said.

The confirmation of a cat with rabies serves as a reminder that although the risk of exposure to rabies is low, animals with rabies exist in the Framingham area, the local health board said.

Rabies is a fatal disease that is spread when an animal with rabies bites or comes in very close contact with another animal or person. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals. Infected animals can also spread rabies if their saliva gets into a scratch or other wound or the eyes, nose or mouth of another person or animal.

If a person knows that he or she has been exposed to rabies, the disease can be prevented in people by administering a vaccine and antibodies promptly. There have not been documented cases of human-to-human spread of rabies except in a few cases involving organ transplants.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends that if an individual is bitten or scratched by an animal, they should wash the wound with soap and water for 10 minutes and call a health care provider to determine if they need to be treated for a rabies exposure.

Health officials also noted that most cases of human rabies occurring in the United States have been associated with exposure to bats. If there is direct contact with a bat, or a bat is found in a room with a sleeping person, an unattended young child, a mentally incapacitated person or a pet, then the bat should be safely captured and tested for rabies.

The state health department continues to monitor rabies in bats and land mammals through testing at the Hinton State Laboratory.

There are many things people can do to help prevent rabies in Framingham:

• Keep your chimney capped and repair holes in attics, cellars, and porches to help keep wild animals like bats and raccoons out of your home.
• Teach children to never approach animals they don’t know — even if they appear friendly.
• Report any animal that behaves oddly to your local animal control official.
• Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not keep wild animals as pets. This is against the law in Massachusetts.
• Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies. By law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be regularly vaccinated against rabies.
• Don’t feed food or water to your pets outside. Even empty bowls will attract wild and stray animals.
• Keep your pets in a fenced yard or on a leash and do not let them roam freely.
• Keep your garbage securely covered. Open garbage will attract wild or stray animals.

The control of rabies in dogs in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s virtually eliminated human rabies in this country, although approximately 55,000 people die of rabies annually in other parts of the world, according to the Framingham health board.

One to three human rabies cases are reported in the United States each year. Most of these cases are a result of exposure to rabid bats in the United States; the rest have been due to exposure to rabid dogs in other parts of the world.

Rabies was first discovered in bats in Massachusetts in 1961. Since that time, approximately 5 percent of bats tested at the Hinton State Laboratory have tested positive for rabies. Rabies from bats only occasionally spreads to people or other animals.

Raccoon rabies arrived in Massachusetts in 1992. Since then, more than 5,000 animals have tested positive for rabies. Most of these cases occurred in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, woodchucks and foxes, but every year some pets (especially cats) and farm animals also get rabies. There has only been one reported human case of rabies caused by the raccoon strain in Virginia in 2003.

More information about rabies is available at the state's health department website. Residents can also call the Framingham Board of Health at 508-532-5470.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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