CDC: GF rabies event exposed riskA rabies incident last March at Grand Forks’ Circle of Friends Humane Society highlighted the risk faced by animal shelter employees across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report distributed this week. The incident led to the euthanizing of 31 dogs. In addition, 21 people — including nine shelter employees and one volunteer — received precautionary rabies shots.
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
A rabies incident last March at Grand Forks’ Circle of Friends Humane Society highlighted the risk faced by animal shelter employees across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report distributed this week.
The incident led to the euthanizing of 31 dogs. In addition, 21 people — including nine shelter employees and one volunteer — received precautionary rabies shots.
“This event supports consideration of pre-exposure vaccination of animal shelter employees,” according to the CDC, “and highlights the continued importance of routine rabies vaccination of domestic animals.”
Dr. Jennifer Cope, a CDC officer based in North Dakota, compiled the report with the assistance of local, state and federal health authorities, physicians from Altru Health System in Grand Forks and Arlette Moen, executive director of Circle of Friends.
On March 9, 2010, a sheriff’s deputy in Marshall County, Minn., brought two stray dogs to Circle of Friends, the nearest animal shelter, which followed its protocol and kept the two animals in isolation for five days. They showed no sign of disease during that time.
They were moved into the general shelter population March 15 and made available for adoption. Because of its “dominant and aggressive temperament,” however, the larger of the two dogs was judged unsuitable for adoption and was euthanized March 19.
The following day, the other dog — a blue heeler mix named Cookie — was placed with a family in Grafton. But within five days, Cookie was vomiting and struggling for balance, according to the report, and was returned to the shelter, where a veterinarian found evidence of canine distemper and rabies. The dog was euthanized and her brain was sent to the state veterinary diagnostic lab for testing.
Three days later, the lab reported test results were positive for rabies. CDC confirmed the results and identified the virus as a skunk rabies variant.
Investigators reviewed employee and volunteer records to determine who could have come into contact with either dog at the shelter. In addition to the nine shelter employees and one volunteer, 11 others received rabies shots: five members of the Grafton family, one neighbor child, three members of the family that had found the stray dogs in Marshall County, and two children who had visited the shelter.
Of 15 people whose exposure to the animals was documented, all had been licked on the hand, and five of those people had open wounds on their hands, according to the report. But as of last month, no people who came into contact with the animals had developed rabies.
Circle of Friends’ animal handling policies “likely minimized contact among dogs,” according to the report, but “muzzle to muzzle contact could not be ruled out,” and the North Dakota Health Department and state Board of Animal Health recommended that all 25 dogs remaining at the shelter be euthanized.
Investigators also tracked 37 other dogs that had been at the shelter between March 9 and March 20 and had been claimed or adopted. Twelve were found to be up to date on rabies vaccinations. Of the 25 that were not, 11 were euthanized, while the owners of 13 elected to confine their dogs for six months for observation. One dog was killed unintentionally before a decision was made.
All euthanized dogs tested negative for rabies.
“The Board of Animal Health wants to err on the side of caution, and that’s important,” Moen said at the time. “When you’re talking about human health and other pets, you want to do the right thing for everybody involved.”
Susan Keller, the state veterinarian, said in March that Circle of Friend’s practices, including steps taken to avoid direct contact between animals, “probably go above and beyond what many shelters do,” and “I cannot say that we could criticize that shelter.”
While rabies is rare, prevention through vaccination is important because the disease is almost always fatal in humans, Cope told Minnesota Public Radio this week.
“Animal shelter employees who come into contact with animals that could be potentially rabid … should really consider being vaccinated prior to starting their duties,” she said.
The Grand Forks incident also underscored the importance of animal owners keeping their pets’ vaccinations up to date and documented — and not on the loose.
Chuck Haga is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.