Pennsylvania Game Commission officials announced yesterday that a Lancaster County man has been forced to undergo post-exposure rabies shots, after field dressing an infected deer.
The man harvested the sick deer on Jan. 20, in Valley Township, Chester County after noticing the animal acting strangely said officials.
According to John Veylupek, Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO), "the hunter said that he saw the deer standing in a creek, straining and growling [...and...] thought there was a coyote nearby from the sounds the deer was making".
But the deer turned out to be infected with the rabies virus. It was after field dressing the deer Velyupek said, that "the hunter contacted us about his concerns that the deer was unfit for human consumption." Upon gathering information from the hunter and conducting tests, results revealed that the deer was rabid.
Because the hunter dressed the deer with scratches on his hands game officials said, he inadvertently provided an entry point for the virus. Rabies is spread from the direct bite of an infected animal or when the virus comes into contact with mucous membranes (eye, nose, respiratory tract), open cuts, wounds and abraded skin. Velyupek said, in the hunter's case, "we considered this a human exposure and urged him to contact his doctor about post-exposure rabies shots."
Rabies attacks the brain, causing severe inflammation and death. There is no cure for the disease and if it allowed to develop, is usually fatal. Two decades ago, scientists developed a rabies treatment regimen that provided protection from the disease, but only before rabies symptoms develop. The treatment, a series of shots, have proven effective when administered before an exposure occurs (pre-exposure), or in the hunter's case, after exposure (post-exposure).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta:
"Over the last 100 years, rabies in the United States has changed dramatically. More than 90% of all animal cases reported annually to CDC now occur in wildlife; before 1960 the majority were in domestic animals. The principal rabies hosts today are wild carnivores and bats".
Although rabies in deer is considered a rare event, "outbreaks of rabies infections in terrestrial mammals like raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are found in broad geographic regions across the United States", said the CDC. Worldwide, there are an estimated 65,000 human rabies cases each year.
Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, said hunters and trappers should avoid harvesting animals that appear sick and to wear rubber or latex gloves when field dressing any mammal.
"All mammals are susceptible to rabies and can spread the virus in the right circumstances," Dr. Cottrell said. "To prevent the spread of wildlife diseases, we encourage hunters and trappers to contact the Game Commission about any animals that they encounter that may appear to be sick. Also, when field dressing any mammal, it is critical to wear rubber or latex gloves to prevent exposure to not just rabies, but also to other disease organisms."