Dog's case illustrates importance of rabies booster

Jul. 05, 2014 @ 04:23 PM

Only halfway through the calendar year, it’s clear that 2014 will be a big year for rabies cases in Orange County.  With 15 positive cases already recorded by the end of June, the county could see nearly 30 cases before year’s end.
It’s likely that no one pays more attention to this kind of news than Susan Tice-Lewis, who learned more about rabies in 2007 than she was ready for, when her dog, Elmer Roy, came in contact with a bat at her Chapel Hill home. 
Elmer Roy’s case is quite notable, as Tice-Lewis is, by every definition, a very responsible pet owner.  Elmer Roy was up-to-date on his rabies vaccine at the time of the exposure, and she had never been told by her veterinarian or anyone else about the North Carolina statutory requirement of having a booster shot within the allotted time of exposure. That time had lapsed by the time Animal Services was made aware of the case, so Elmer Roy had to be treated as an unvaccinated animal under these NC laws.
According to the law at that time, if there is “a reasonable suspicion of exposure,” a dog or cat with a current vaccination must receive a booster shot within 72 hours of exposure. An unvaccinated animal, though, must either be destroyed or quarantined for a period of six months. The statute has since been changed from 72 hours to 120 hours, but the booster requirement remains.
Luckily for Elmer Roy and his family, he received a clean bill of health after his six-month quarantine. He is now over 14 years old and, although mostly blind and deaf and a little slower than he used to be, is still in good health overall.
“Elmer Roy’s case turned out to benefit everyone in Orange County by coincidentally drawing attention to the booster requirements,” said Animal Services Director Bob Marotto.  “We had been stressing vaccinations for years, but this made us realize that stressing the booster was equally important. And having a face to put with the issue really got the attention of the public more than we could have imagined,” he added.
Since that time, Animal Services has continued to promote the education of statutory requirements, as well as rabies awareness overall.  “We created an informational flier in-house that has been distributed widely since that time, and have even had a more collaborative educational effort with local veterinarians, many of which display our flyer in their clinics,” Animal Services Communication Specialist Andi Morgan said.
The department also holds numerous low-cost rabies vaccination clinics each year and requires dogs and cats recovered from the Animal Services Center to have a current vaccination before being released to their owners.  Overall, rabies exposure cases involving animals appear to show a higher percentage of animals that do have a current vaccination and are able to get boostered within the allotted time since 2007.  It is hopeful that cases such as Elmer Roy’s and the hard work of Animal Services are at least partially behind that positive trend.
Historically speaking, having years with many rabies cases isn’t atypical, as it can be a cyclical virus that ebbs and flows over time in any given region.  The last several previous years in Orange County showed lower numbers that averaged 11 or 12 positive cases annually.  But the county saw a definite peak that began in 2005 and lasted for several years before the latest decline in 2009.  The cases thus far do indicate that 2014 will be another peak year for at least Orange County and possibly other regions of North Carolina as well.  Animal Services staff and Elmer Roy hope that this will give citizens even more incentive to educate themselves and protect themselves and their pets from this disease.
More information about rabies can be found on the Animal Services web site at www.orangecountync.gov/animalservices or by calling (919) 967-7387. The information from the Animal Services rabies flier can be found at http://www.orangecountync.gov/AnimalServices/RabiesInfo.asp. 
Remaining low-cost rabies vaccination clinics for 2014 are as follows: 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Animal Services Center, 1601 Eubanks Road, Chapel Hill; Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Schley Grange Hall, 3416 Schley Road, Hillsborough; Aug. 14 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Animal Services Center; Sept. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Farmers’ Market in Hillsborough; Sept. 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Animal Services Center; Oct. 9 at the Hillsborough Farmers’ Market from 5 to 7 p.m.; Nov. 13 at Animal Services from 3 to 5 p.m.