MARSHALL - The state Board of Animal Health has issued a rabies alert in Lyon County in response to a rabies case in a cat.
A news release from the BAH said a Lyon County family noticed their unvaccinated cat was not able to jump, was having difficulty walking and was vocalizing more than normal. The cat also began biting without reason.
The animal was brought to the Marshall Animal Hospital & Clinic and was euthanized and tested positive for rabies on Sept. 28.
"It was really acting unusual," said Dr. Scott Kuecker, a veterinarian at the Marshall Animal Hospital & Clinic. "It wasn't that sick - it was just acting goofy - so they brought it in, and it was positive and had to be put to sleep."
There was also a rabies case reported in Lincoln County earlier this year, the clinic said.
Kuecker said there isn't much of a window when it comes to saving a dog or cat - a week to 10 days. If a human is exposed, he said, they will need a vaccination shot within five to 10 days but the quicker the better.
It's the fourth case of feline rabies in Minnesota this year, the BAH said - which equals the total number of feline rabies cases in all of 2011. So far in 2012, there have been nine rabies cases reported in domestic animals in Minnesota, including the four feline cases. A bovine case was reported in February in Lac qui Parle County. Nobles County has had two cases, one bovine and one equine.
In 2011, 55 domestic and non-domestic rabies cases were reported statewide, the Minnesota Department of Health said - the majority (44) in skunks and bats. There was a canine rabies case reported in Lincoln County that year.
The cat in Lyon County was reported to have had exposure to a skunk within the past month, the BAH said.
The BAH also said there are many other animals on the property and is investigating potential exposures to the rabid cat. The Minnesota Department of Health recommended post-exposure prophylaxis for three people working within the veterinary clinic where the cat was euthanized.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 70,000 people worldwide die from rabies every year. Dogs, cats, ferrets and horses should be routinely vaccinated. Sheep and cattle should be vaccinated whenever appropriate.
Kuecker said skunks are mostly to blame for passing the rabies virus. This year, he said, people have to be even more on the lookout because of the weather and dry conditions.
"It really can be related to the drought and the harvest," he said. "It's just so dang dry. There are skunks in town right now, and they are the number one reservoir for rabies because they live so long and they carry it. We've gotten hundreds of calls on skunks."
Kuecker said skunks and other animals at this time of the year are already looking for a place to hole up for the winter, but this year they are even more omnipresent because it has been difficult for them to find water sources in these drought-like conditions.
According to the BAH, the majority of rabies cases reported each year occur in wild animals such as skunks, bats, foxes and raccoons, and domestic animals account for less than 10 percent of the reported rabies cases. Cattle, cats and dogs are the domestic species most often reported as rabid.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy leading to death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, the BAH said, consisting of fever, headache and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hyper-salivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
Kuecker encourages people to act if they see an animal, such as a skunk, moving abnormally. He said there are three stages of rabies in an affected animal. The first presents neurological signs - acting "kind of stupid and goofy," he said. The animal will turn aggressive in the next stage and might try to attack other animals. The final stage includes foaming at the mouth as the animal's nerves become paralyzed and they have trouble drinking.
For information on rabies in animals, visit www.bah.state.mn.us/diseases/rabies or call 651-296-2942. If you have questions about rabies in people, contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.