SWEETWATER COUNTY – After the discovery of rabies for the first time since 2007, a pair of local veterinarians are saying that while the disease is rare in Sweetwater County, there are precautions that can lessen the threat rabies poses.
According to Dr. Stephanie Wallendorff of Desert View Animal Hospital, vaccinations for dogs and cats are available and legally required as part of a pet’s core vaccinations. She said Rock Springs and Green River have their own ordinances mandating rabies vaccination. For areas outside of municipal governance, she said a state statute mandates the vaccinations. Dr. Wallendorff said the vaccinations have been instrumental in preventing the disease from spreading to cats and dogs. She also said she hasn’t encountered rabies in her work.
“We have pretty much eliminated rabies in the cat and dog population,” she said.
Dr. Wallendorff said all mammals are susceptible to the virus, which is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. She said raccoons, skunks and bats are the most common carriers of the virus. While smaller rodents and rabbits can become infected, they typically aren’t considered to be vectors of the disease because an attack from an infected animal generally ends with the rodent or rabbit being killed. She said cases of livestock becoming infected have been reported in Sheridan County, though cases tend to be rare.
Human infections are incredibly rare, but not unheard of.
Dr. Rex Rammel of the Wyoming Veterinary Center said a 77-year-old Lander woman was unknowingly bitten by a rabid bat and ultimately died of the disease in 2015. The woman was the first resident with a confirmed case of rabies since the state began recording reported infectious diseases in 1911. According to a 2016 report, the woman had found a bat on her neck after waking up about a month before she was admitted to the hospital. The woman’s husband had contacted Fremont County’s invasive species authorities about the incident but wasn’t advised to seek medical attention for possible rabies exposure. According to the report, the incident highlighted a need to improve public understanding of the risk for rabies.
Like Dr. Wallendorff, Dr. Rammel said he hasn’t come across a rabies infection.
“I’ve personally never seen rabies,” he said. “I hope I never do.”
Both veterinarians underscored a need to be vigilant with behavioral changes seen in animals. Examples include seeing animals that normally would flee from humans being comfortable approaching people, pets that are normally calm and docile becoming unusually aggressive and animals that drool excessively are signs of possible rabies infection. With livestock, animals that act depressed or lethargic and drool are symptoms to be aware of. Dr. Wallendorff said the drooling is a result of the animal being unable to swallow properly.
Both veterinarians also said if someone sees an animal they think might be rabid, they should stay away from it and call animal control officers to deal with the situation. People who believe they may have been bitten by a rabid animal should seek medical attention immediately as the virus is fatal.