By SEAN ROWLEY
State health officials are still trying to contact the families who adopted three kittens that may have been exposed to the rabies virus.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is looking for those who adopted or had direct contact with four kittens offered for adoption on the Tahlequah Online Garage Sale Facebook group Oct. 1. Health officials with the state and Cherokee County report that none of the adoptive families had been located as of Monday afternoon.
The OSDH reported on Friday that one of the adopted kittens was euthanized Oct. 3 after developing symptoms consistent with rabies. Testing at the OSDH Public Health Laboratory confirmed the presence of rabies.
Dr. Laurence Burnsed, epidemiologist with the OSDH, said no calls have been received from the adoptive families or any other people who might have been exposed.
“We’ve tried very hard to get the word out,” Burnsed said. “[TOGS] has also been very helpful keeping notifications on top of their Facebook page.”
Burnsed said whatever the attachment to potentially exposed animals, passivity is not an option with a virus as dangerous as rabies.
“Once it shows symptoms, it is fatal,” he said. “It is very important to identify the other three kittens and determine whether they are showing symptoms. We want people to recognize the importance of the situation.”
Families adopted the kittens in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter at 2020 S. Muskogee Ave. The kittens are about 9 weeks old with have black and white markings.
Those who adopted the other three kittens, or anyone who may have come in direct contact with them, should immediately call (405) 271-4060 or (800) 234-5963. Burnsed said an epidemiologist is on call 24 hours a day.
Health officials must conduct interviews to determine which people who had physical contact with the rabid kitten need to receive immunizations to prevent rabies. Those bitten by the rabid kitten or had the kitten’s saliva get into a cut or fresh wound on the skin or mucous membranes may have been exposed to the virus.
For decades, rabies vaccinations involved as many as 30 painful injections in the abdomen, and fear of treatment may cause apprehension in those who might be exposed.
“Today, treatments are far less painful,” said Dr. William Elliott, a local veterinarian who has undergone rabies vaccination and requires a booster if exposure is suspected. “They involve a few shots, usually given in the hip, over a series of visits.”
Though there has only been one reported case of rabies, Elliott said vaccinations must be administered if there is a chance of exposure.
“These days, many cases of rabies have no bite history,” he said. “It can be passed through inhalation. If you hold an exposed kitten very near your face, the virus might be transmitted.”
Elliott and other local veterinarians urge pet owners to keep their vaccinations up to date. Animals that are allowed outdoors are especially susceptible.