Potentially deadly disease surfaces in Meeker County

This article submitted on 11/22/00.

Rabies is back.

Just weeks after the state's first death from the disease in a quarter century, another rabies case surfaced last week.

The fatality was a Becker County man who died in a Fargo, N.D., hospital, but the newest finding of rabies is a lot closer to Paynesville.

The latest discovery of rabies was in a batch of giveaway puppies that were at a Litchfield flea market in late October.

The finding of rabies in one puppy led the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to conduct a public search both for the other puppies and anyone who may have come in contact with them.

As of Thursday, eight of the puppies had been located and seven had been tested, with only one positive result for rabies. The mother of the puppies died in October, but its body has been exhumed for testing. Initial tests were inconclusive, so further testing is being done.

Of the two puppies who remain at large, one may have been given away at another flea market in Monticello on Sunday, Oct. 22.

The other is a runaway, whose whereabouts are unknown. It's thought that this puppy may not have survived, but people should be cautious with any stray animal, the MDH warns.

Rabies is a deadly disease. It can be prevented if treatment is started before symptoms of the illness appear. Once the symptoms develop, the illness is always fatal, health officials warn.

Anyone who thinks they might be exposed to the disease should call the health department toll free at 1-877-676-5414. The MDH staff will evaluate any exposure to the disease and recommend if treatment is necessary.

So far, 20 people are undergoing treatment: the five members of the adopted family, five members of the original family, two friends, five people who handled the puppies at the flea market, and three veterinary staff who handled the infected puppy, according to the MDH.

The Becker County man who died is believed to have been infected by a bat. He went to a physician, but did not report his bat bite until his symptoms were so severe that he needed to be hospitalized.

It also is not necessary to have been bitten to become infected with rabies. There is a slight chance that coming in contact with infected saliva or brain tissue can pass the disease.

Rabies treatment includes a shot of immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine, given over a one-month period. The shots are now given in the arm, not the painful series into the abdomen that used to be common.

The Litchfield flea market was located about a mile east of Litchfield on Highway 12.

The concerned puppies were brought to the market on Saturday, Oct. 21. They are black and a mix of lab and German shepherd, according to the MDH. They were given away from a black or dark blue pick-up truck with Iowa license plates. The truck was parked near the entrance of the flea market, next to a lunch cart.

The Minnesota Department of Health also urges pet owners to have their dogs, cats, and ferrets immunized against rabies.

(Michael Jacobson compiled this report from Minnesota Department of Health press releases.)

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