Rabies detected in Shelby County – Five cases signal disease’s return

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Rabies has entered Shelby County and its detection in some residential areas has alarmed county officials.

So far, state health department officials have confirmed five cases of rabies in wildlife throughout the county in 2004.

That’s an increase, according to Shelby County rabies officer and veterinarian Becky Senicz.

&uot;It’s an increase, and it’s in populated areas. That’s what’s got us concerned, because a couple have been in subdivisions,&uot; she said.

All five cases have been found in bats and raccoons.

Two cases were confirmed in Pelham, one in Calera, one in Columbiana and one in Alabaster, according to Jim Hollins, environmental director for Area 5 of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

At least one case in Alabaster occurred in a subdivision, according to Hoyt Hodges, Alabaster’s animal control officer.

The last rabies case occurred near Chelsea, where officers captured a bat.

Shelby County’s animal control officer Donald Kendrick said he received a call from a woman that saw a bat on her back porch.

The bat tested positive for rabies and was destroyed, but the situation was complicated because the woman said she saw the bat bite one of several cats on the property.

The cats, which Kendrick described as semi-feral, were euthanized, and a dog that belonged to the woman was quarantined. The dog was current on its rabies vaccination and was fine, Kendrick said.

Three members of the woman’s family were subsequently treated for possible rabies exposure since the disease is fatal.

According to associate state veterinarian for public health John Kelliher, state wildlife officials have focused their attention on Shelby County, since five of the state’s 50 rabies cases this year have occurred in Shelby County.

In particular, the raccoon variant of rabies has concerned Kelliher. Raccoons have moved across the natural rabies border formed by the Tallapoosa-Coosa River.

Three of the county’s five rabies cases were raccoons. The bats are of less concern since their flight patterns change and cover large areas, Kelliher said.

Last month, wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture came to Shelby County to investigate. The biologists were trapping and conducting a survey of the county’s raccoons, testing them for rabies.

&uot;What we’re attempting to do is halt the spread of the raccoon variant of rabies to West Alabama and northward,&uot; Kelliher said.

Last month, wildlife biologists finished the year’s second distribution of wildlife vaccination packets in Northeast Alabama.

&uot;It’s not anything to panic over but it is a concern,&uot; Kendrick said. &uot;I will say this – that rabies is here. I think a lot of people think it’s gone and they got complacent about vaccinations.&uot;

Kendrick said that all five cases of rabies in the county were found in wildlife such as raccoons and bats.

According to Kendrick, the common sources of rabies are becoming wildlife rather than dogs, and that has changed the nature of the disease.

Nocturnal wildlife and common rabies vectors such as raccoons and bats have created a new carrier in cats, since they are nocturnal, Kendrick said.

&uot;Wildlife is the vector now for rabies, not dogs,&uot; Kendrick said. &uot;Also cats are, because they are nocturnal and few are vaccinated.&uot;

Although the county hosts regular rabies vaccination clinics, Kendrick said a recent clinic drew as many stray dogs as it did pet owners.

&uot;It’s important that people get their cats and all pets vaccinated,&uot; he said.