Rabies concerns addressed
Published: December 27, 2012
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KLINGERSTOWN - Tri-Valley school officials have reported that approximately 27 Mahantongo Elementary students had come in contact with a stray cat that was determined to have rabies earlier this month.
A special meeting was held Tuesday, Dec. 18, in the Mahantongo all-purpose room with representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control to discuss the facts about rabies and to clear up any questions or concerns that parents had.
According to Superintendent Mark D. Snyder, sometime between Tuesday, Dec. 4 and Wednesday, Dec. 5, there was a gray, striped farm cat from an adjacent property that had been on school property in the area of the playground and several students had come in contact with the cat.
Dr. Amanda Beudoin, DVM, PhD, Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, serving a fellowship with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, assured parents that just because their children may have petted the cat, they would not be susceptible to contracting rabies.
"Even though a cat licks itself, a person would not contract rabies by just petting the animal," said Dr. Beudoin. "However, if that student had a cut or an open wound on their hand, then they should be treated with the rabies vaccines."
Approximately 20 parents attended the meeting and most parents confirmed that they had their children treated as a precautionary measure. Rabies is the type of disease that until symptoms appear it is too late then to treat the disease and death will occur.
Mahantongo Elementary Nurse Paula Morgan was actually bitten by the cat and has been undergoing shots every so many days since the incident.
"It was the cutest, friendliest cat," said Paula. "I can certainly understand why the students would have approached it and been playing with it. It was very lovable. I was petting it and it bit me a little in a playful manner, but it was enough to open the skin and so here I am getting the shots, too."
Morgan said she is so thankful that the owners of the cat actually penned it up when the school called to have the cat removed.
"Thank goodness they actually had the cat penned so it couldn't wonder back to the school," said Morgan. "Imagine what the outcome could have been if they wouldn't have had the cat penned up. We possibly would have never known that it had rabies and that would have been detrimental to all the students and adults who were in contact with the animals. I'm just so grateful that they thought to do that and to contact the school immediately when the cat had died and was tested."
Some of the questions parents asked included:
Will the school's insurance cover the cost of these vaccines if our personal insurance won't? According to Superintendent Mark Snyder, the parents are encouraged to fill out insurance forms with the district and he is working with the district's insurance to determine what will happen. According to one of the parents, the shots cost over $7000.
Does the school have a policy in place concerning stray animals and how will this be avoided in the future? "We are working on a police right now," said Elementary principal Gerald Anderson. "If an animal comes on school property again, I don't care if the students know the name of the dog or cat, or know who's it is, the students will be brought indoors immediately and the animal will be removed."
Parents said they were concerned as some of them were being turned away from area hospital emergency rooms and some traveled as far as Danville and Lebanon because the local hospitals didn't have a large enough supply of the vaccine.
"Generally hospitals will have enough vaccine on hand to treat a few cases," said Dr. Perianne Lurie, MD, MPH, FACPM, Epidemologist, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Harrisburg office. "Since there was such a large number of cases coming at once that's why they turned people away and asked them to go to other facilities."
Parents were assured if they still have concerns or need more information they are encouraged to call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH or visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov), the PA Dept. of Health at www.health.state.pa.us or the PA Department of Agriculture www.agriculture.state.pa.us.