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Cute kitty may have exposed many to rabies

August 30, 2000

Cute kitty may have exposed many to rabies



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Ten people who came in contact with a yellow kitten are undergoing rabies treatment in Tri-State area hospitals, a spokeswoman at the Franklin County State Health Center in Chambersburg, Pa., said Wednesday.

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Another 140 people may have come in contact with the kitten and may be in need of treatment, Pennsylvania State Health Department officials said.

Contact with the kitten may have been made either at a golf tournament at the Majestic Ridge Golf Club in Chambersburg, Pa. Aug. 20 or in the 100 block of West Main Street in downtown Waynesboro the next day.

It is important for those who may have been exposed to rabies through contact with the kitten to seek treatment as soon as possible, health officials said.

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The incubation period for rabies in humans can range from four days to more than a year, health officials said. Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies cannot be successfully treated and is always fatal.

A month-long series of rabies vaccine plus rabies immunoglobulin can prevent the disease in humans if administered before symptoms appear, Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said Wednesday.

McGarvey urged anyone who thinks they may have come in contact with the kitten, described as a three-to four-month-old yellow tabby, to immediately call the Franklin County State Health Center at 717-263-4143.

A Waynesboro man who asked not to be identified was bitten by the kitten and is being treated at Waynesboro Hospital.

He was playing in the golf tournament when the kitten wandered onto the course, he said. Like many around him that day, he thought it was cute.

He said he picked it up, put it in his golf cart and planned to take it home as a pet for his girlfriend and her children.

"It bit me and scratched a person in the cart with me," the man said, adding he thought the kitten was just being playful.

He said he stopped at several refreshment stands on the course during the tournament and women working in the stands fawned over the kitten and picked it up.

He took the kitten home and the next morning it bit his girlfriend on the toe and bit him again. After that, he put it outside.

"I had no idea it was rabid. It had no symptoms. I just thought it was too mean and playful to be around the children," he said.

The last time he saw kitten was later that morning in the parking lot of his apartment building in the 100 block of West Main Street, when another man picked it up, he said.

The kitten ended up at the Antietam Humane Society on Lyons Road in Waynesboro, where it was euthanized and sent to a lab to be tested for rabies.

"This happens once or twice a year in Pennsylvania, but usually with just a few people who may come into contact with a rabid animal," McGarvey said.

The last person to die of rabies in Pennsylvania was a 12-year-old Lycoming County boy in 1984, according to McGarvey.

Treatment involves a series of shots that can range in cost from $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the patient's size and weight. Bigger people require more shots.

"They're not a whole lot of fun," said the Waynesboro man who took the kitten home. He said the serum has the consistency of maple syrup and it's injected with a long needle in order for the substance to get deep into muscles.

"It's rather unpleasant," he said, "I had seven the first day and I have to go back for three more visits," he said.

He said he had no clue the kitten was rabid until he saw a short story in a local newspaper that said a yellow kitten had tested positive for rabies.

"I hope this is an education for a lot of people. It was for me," the man said. "I didn't know the ramifications of what I did. I didn't know that rabies is always fatal once the symptoms occur."

Rabies is a viral infection of the brain. The rabies virus is in the saliva of infected animals and can be transmitted to other animals or humans by biting and sometimes by licking.

Early symptoms of rabies can include mental depression, restlessness, a sick feeling and fever.

Sean Boock, whose Cottage Restaurant in Chambersburg has been sponsoring the golf tournament since 1992, said he was concerned about the incident.

Since 1997, the tournament has been named in honor of Gene Spadaccino, a Pennsylvania state trooper and friend of Boock's family who died of cancer in 1996.

The tournament raises money for cancer charities, he said. This year it raised $12,000.

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