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State Prepares Battle Lines For Rabies Fight
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As cases of rabies in domestic animals are reported closer and closer each year to the Mississippi state line, officials are concerned the state might be running out of luck.
To address this potential problem for Mississippi's dog and cat populations, state Health Department officials and members of the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association are joining forces to protect animals and people.
Vaccination clinics for cats and dogs will be held on four weekends at numerous sites around the state.
"Rabies has been diagnosed in land animals in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana -- in every state bordering Mississippi. Yet there has been no definitive diagnosis of rabies in any land animal in this state in more than 30 years," said Bruce Brackin, epidemiologist with the state Board of Health in Jackson.
Bats represent the only high risk exposure to rabies for people or animals in Mississippi. Historically, one bat in 10 submitted to the state Public Health Laboratory tests positive for rabies.
Brackin said animals are especially at risk because of their chances of becoming infected after finding and chewing on a weak or dead rabid bat.
Each Saturday from April 19 through May 10, the MVMA and health department officials will conduct vaccination clinics in areas where pets are less likely to see veterinarians on a regular basis, mainly in the rural parts of the state.
A $5 fee will be charged to cover the cost of the vaccine and supplies. Area media outlets or local health departments should have times and locations for the clinics.
"Our philosophy is that the only way we can protect ourselves is by protecting our animals," Brackin said. "You only have to worry about getting rabies once. It is a fatal disease."
Dr. Clyde Taylor, chairman of the MVMA rabies committee, said 165 veterinarians have signed up to assist with the clinics.
"The veterinarians will be vaccinating the dogs and cats. They will not be providing any other medical treatment, with the exception of a general visual examination," Taylor said.
"We feel very strongly that it is easier to prevent rabies before it gets a foothold in our state than it will be to control it after it crosses the state lines," Taylor said. "By vaccinating the dogs and cats, we help protect the pet and human populations."
Taylor said it is important that the vaccine be handled and administered in a professional manner to ensure the effectiveness of the vaccination. State laws require pets to receive rabies vaccinations at the age of 3 months and again after 12 months.
The MVMA and state Health Departments plan to conduct these clinics on an annual basis.
Brackin said in the past, dogs were the domestic animal most commonly found to harbor the rabies virus; however, cats now have surpassed dogs with this distinction.