Feline destroyed before rabies test

October 03, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A woman who was bitten by a stray cat last month has two shots left in a multishot vaccination series after the Humane Society of Washington County destroyed the animal without testing it for rabies.

"Apparently, a mistake had been made on our part, and steps have been taken to make sure that doesn't happen again," Katherine Cooker, the society's director of fundraising and community relations, said last week.

She declined to specify what steps the society took.

Mary Mallery said she was sitting outside her home in Hagerstown on the afternoon of Sept. 15 when a stray cat approached and made sounds as if it were "talking" to her. Then, it nipped her, drawing a little blood, she said.

"For some reason, I guess I wasn't paying enough attention to him, he walked up and bit me," she said Monday.


After calling her doctor, Mallery said she went to the hospital, where she found out the cat would need to be quarantined to determine if it was sick.

According to Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae, animals that are suspected of having rabies are quarantined for 10 days, either at their homes or at the Humane Society, or they are euthanized and autopsied if they already seemed sick. That still leaves enough time for bite victims to begin a 28-day series of shots, if necessary, he said.

But, about six days after being bitten, Mallery said the health department called to say she needed to begin the shots. The cat already was dead, she said.

"I don't like to bash the Humane Society a lot, but obviously they have some staff that are not adequately trained to deal with quarantined animals," Mallery said.

While MacRae said the vaccination series includes five shots, Mallery said she had three shots to begin the series. A nurse told her the first dose is determined by body weight, she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the shots typically cost more than $1,000. A fact sheet states that the public cost of preventing, detecting and controlling rabies exceeds $300 million a year.

MacRae said victims' insurance companies usually cover the cost of the shots.

According to MacRae, at least 80 people have needed the shots this year, including several who were bitten by a baby fox that had rabies. He advised that people steer clear of wild animals and strays.

A cat owner, Mallery said she feels sorry for the strays she sees in her neighborhood near City Park, but she avoids the animals because she knows they can be dangerous.

"The poor things, I feel awfully sorry for them, but people, I don't think they realize, they can bite you either on accident or out of frustration or whatever, and this is what you go through," Mallery said.

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