Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Feral cats identified as possible Willow Creek rabies source; victim currently in stable condition

For decades I have been harping on the subject of rabies as a public health issue, constantly telling clients, friends, family, and a whole host of other acquaintances that the rabies threat is real, that it is and will always be with us here in North America, and that cats should never be ignored as potential rabies vectors. We have a huge feral cat population in Los Angeles, and they have always troubled me because they are by and large unprotected against this ancient scourge. Our local bats are an ongoing rabies threat, and cats by their curious and predatory natures are especially at risk when rabid bats are around. Where this case occurred rabies is also common in skunks and gray foxes.

So it appears now that a perfect storm of events may have occurred in Northern California: high local incidence of rabid skunks and foxes, with some rabid local bats also; significant feral cat population; susceptible humans. The result is a woman in a fight for her life, and the only good news is that the Milwaukee Protocol appears to be working and she is now in stable condition. Every one of the half dozen rabies survivors worldwide is a small miracle because this viral disease has the highest mortality rate of any infectious disease: essentially 100%.

While I am thrilled at the woman's probable survival, I worry that people will use this as an excuse to have an even more lackadaisical attitude toward rabies than they do now (and that's really saying something). We have a serious feral cat issue here, and they pose a significant zoonotic disease threat even without taking rabies into consideration.

We still need to, as a community, come together to eliminate the feral cat problem, not just perpetuate it by dumping the poor things out on the street after neutering and a one-time vaccination and calling it good. Cats are NOT a native species and have no place in any North American ecosystem other than our households. As domestic animals, they have every right to a clean, safe home; protection from the elements and outdoor hazards; and most importantly, ongoing and adequate medical and preventive care by a licensed veterinarian.

I hope this is a wake up call for Angelenos. I fear that it will not be.