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Rabies in a Llama -- Oklahoma

On November 28, 1989, the first reported case of rabies in a llama in the United States occurred in Oklahoma in a 10-year-old male llama. Approximately 4 weeks before onset of symptoms, the llama was brought to southern Oklahoma from northern Texas, where it had been kept in a pasture for 2 years. On November 21, the llama had onset of ataxia, aggressive behavior, and progressive hind-leg paralysis; the animal died November 27. Rabies was diagnosed by fluorescent antibody test of brain tissue. Monoclonal antibody testing showed that the virus was identical to the antigenically distinct group of viruses found in skunks from the south-central United States.

Two dogs, four llamas, and 46 Angora goats have been quarantined for 6 months' observation because of possible exposure to the rabid llama; these animals had shared a pasture in Oklahoma. Rabies prophylaxis was administered to 13 persons, including the owner and his family, a veterinarian, a veterinarian aide, caretakers, and family friends who were exposed to the llama during the illness or 2 weeks before onset of illness.

Of 3163 animal specimens submitted for rabies testing to the Oklahoma State Department of Health in 1989, 102 (3%) were positive for rabies, including specimens from 74 skunks, seven cattle, six bats, six cats, four dogs, three horses, one raccoon, and one llama. In 1989, two rabid skunks were identified in the Oklahoma county and two in the Texas county where the llama had been kept. Reported by: M Milton, Stephens County Health Dept; P Boden, MS, C Crocker, K Krisher, PhD, S McNabb, PhD, GR Istre, MD, State Epidemiologist, Oklahoma State Dept of Health. J Perdue, Texas Dept of Health. Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Br, Div of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases; Div of Field Svcs, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Llamas (members of the ungulate family) have become increasingly popular domesticated animals. Approximately 20,000 llamas are currently registered in the United States (International Llama Registry, unpublished data), with approximately 200 being kept in Oklahoma; most of these animals are kept for breeding and showing. The potential for human exposure to rabies from infected llamas at fairs, petting zoos, and parades is a public health concern because of the llama's defensive spitting behavior. No rabies vaccine is licensed for use in llamas.

Virtually all mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection (1). In the United States, four wild animal groups (bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks) accounted for at least 85% of reported rabies cases during 1980-1988 (1). Most animals that develop rabies in Oklahoma are believed to be infected from skunks.

In recent years, rabies has been reported for the first time in javelinas (2) and armadillos (3). Rabies must be considered in the differential diagnosis of any mammal with unexplained neurologic illness.

References

  1. CDC. Rabies surveillance, United States, 1988. MMWR 1989;38(no. SS-1).

  2. CDC. Rabies in a javelina--Arizona. MMWR 1986;35:555-6,561.

  3. Leffingwell LM, Neill SU. Naturally acquired rabies in an armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) in Texas. J Clin Microbiol 1989;27:174-5.



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