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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Cat Rabies Exposures in Iowa -- 1981

In 1981, the number of confirmed cases of animal rabies in Iowa rose to 889--a 68% increase over the 1980 figure of 529 cases. Although skunks remain the most important endemic reservoir, a significant increase in the number of cases of rabies among dogs (49 in 1981 vs 22 in 1980) and cats (83 in 1981 vs 44 in 1980) was also observed. The Iowa State Department of Health was consulted on 661 animal-contact incidents, as a result of which 452 persons received postexposure therapy (Table 1). Of the treated group, 57 persons received penetrating bites from known rabid animals. Forty-two (74%) of these bite-associated exposures involved cats. This species was the most common source of human exposure to rabies in Iowa in 1981, as it was in the period 1977-1980 (Table 2). No cases of human rabies occurred in Iowa in 1981.

Although intraspecies transmission of rabies in cats cannot be ruled out, it is presumed that most cases resulted from exposure to rabid skunks. Investigation of 64 rabid cats in Iowa in 1981 revealed that none had a history of rabies vaccination (only dogs are required by the Iowa State Code to be vaccinated). Investigation of 35 rabid dogs, on the other hand, revealed that the vaccination status of 1 was current and 3 had expired vaccinations.

The cost of this increased incidence of cat rabies is difficult to ascertain. A total of 6,234 doses of human diploid cell vaccine were shipped to Iowa in 1981. This suggests that the total number of human treatments was approximately 900(plus or minus100). If the cost of 1 treatment is estimated at $350 for biologics plus $50 for administration, the total cost for prophylaxis alone ($400 times a minimum of 800 persons treated) would be $320,000. Costs of laboratory services, lost work days, transportation, livestock mortality, and veterinary fees would markedly increase this estimate. Reported by V Seaton, DVM, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Iowa State University, Ames, WH Hausler, PhD, University Hygienic Laboratory, University of Iowa, Iowa City, RW Currier, DVM, LA Wintermeyer, MD, State Epidemiologist, Iowa State Dept of Health; Viral Diseases Div, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This report reflects the national experience with rabies in recent years. Reports of documented rabies in animals have doubled in the United States in the last 3 years: 3,298 for 1978 and over 7,000 for 1981. In 1981, for the first time, the number of rabid cats outnumbered the number of rabid dogs, by approximately 20%. Control of rabies among wild animals is not technically or fiscally practical at this time. Immunization of pets represents the single most important control measure because it is effective in preventing disease and subsequent human exposures. The absence of human rabies in Iowa potentially underscores the efficacy of postexposure therapy using the combination of human rabies immune globulin and human diploid cell strain rabies vaccine.

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