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Rabies Threat Moves Closer To Mississippi
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's rabies-free days are numbered.
Mississippi is the only state in the continental United States without a confirmed case of land-animal rabies in recent years. Unfortunately, the threat is not 100 miles away from Mississippi's border, it's probably less than 10.
Bruce Brackin, epidemiologist with the state Board of Health in Jackson, said although it has been more than 30 years since Mississippi had a confirmed case of land-animal rabies, verified cases are so close that rabies is most likely within the state's boarders already.
"We are certain there are more rabid animals than we know about. If you don't test, you can't know," Brackin said.
The most significant threat to land animals (which excludes bats) comes from Mobile County in South Alabama. Brackin said a recent case in Theodore, Ala., on the west side of Mobile, should send a warning to Mississippi pet owners.
"The risk is never zero for any animal in any part of Mississippi," Brackin said. "All parts of the state have rabid bats that could infect unvaccinated animals."
Dogs and cats could get rabies from chewing on weak or dead rabid bats. Rabies vaccines will protect pets. Animals in rural areas are at a greater risk from raccoons, but bats are frequently found in cities as well as on farms.
"Humans are most often exposed to rabies from handling bats. Parents really need to teach children not to touch or get close to wild animals, even if they look harmless," Brackin said.
State laws prohibit people from owning wild animals such as raccoons. Rabies vaccinations are not only important for the health of animals and their owners, they are required by law for all dogs and cats. Mississippi law states "it shall be unlawful for any person within the state of Mississippi to own or have in (their) possession within the state of Mississippi any dog or cat 3 months of age or over which has not been vaccinated against rabies."
The law further authorizes law enforcement officers to kill any dog older than 3 months running loose which does not have a collar and rabies tag.
In an effort to launch a counter offensive against the deadly disease, several agencies will conduct vaccination clinics in rural parts of Mississippi on May 2. Members of the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association will be working with the state Board of Health and the Board of Animal Health to provide low cost vaccinations to animals in high-risk areas.
Dr. Clyde Taylor, a member of the MVMA rabies committee, said veterinarians have given their support to the vaccination program because they view rabies as a real threat to Mississippi's animal and human populations.
"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."
Contact local health departments for times and locations for the May 2 clinics.
Contact: Bruce Brackin, (601) 960-7725