LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Delaware agencies mishandled rabies episode

The Delaware Department of Public Health failed in both its obligation to the public and to its mission in protecting the citizens. This was completely ignored by them during the recent death of a Viola woman from rabies.

I’m hard pressed not to think they had not hoped this would just go away quietly. Though they ensured that the affected health care providers were immediately inoculated, they made absolutely no effort to advise the public and seek out others who may have been in contact with this person.

When they were finally brought to task on the issue by Sen. Dave Lawson, they implied that the location was far from the capital and “west of Felton” when Viola where she resided is between Felton and Camden. Their flippant disregard could have deadly effects on anyone who may have contacted her. Though understandably a hot button issue with a distinctly small group in Delaware, the issue of feral cats (over three dozen were trapped at the location) was completely downplayed as was the unlivable conditions of the house where it took place.

Rabies is 100 percent fatal. Once the disease is contracted, there is no cure to this neurological virus. Incubation for the disease has been recorded from as little as nine days to several years though the normal progression is from three to eight weeks.

The old common name for the disease was “hydrophobia” as there becomes an innate fear of water. For those who have never been vaccinated, the old fear of “shots to the stomach” are long gone. Today, a rabies vaccination entails an initial shot along with a second shot of rabies immune globulin as soon as possible. In three days, a second shot is administered followed by shots on the seventh and 14th day since the initial vaccination.

For some unfathomable reason, Delaware in general with DHS and Animal Protection continue to cater to the feral cat lovers in this state. Feral cats are not your household “Fluffy” but are wild animals. Can you imagine trapping raccoons, foxes, skunks, and our new trouble, the coyote, vaccinating, neutering and spaying, notching their ear and returning them to the wilds? Do you think it would be possible to trap them all? Yet that’s exactly the attitude of the state.

Feral cats are wanton killers who destroy many animals we list as “protected” and especially the young of ground dwelling and nesting animals. They will kill anything that moves. This trait brings us to the cause and effect of this disease.

Bat populations are the biggest vectors of rabies. Though DHS will tell you that “only 6 percent” of bats are rabid, turn that into real figures. How many hundreds of bats do you suppose live in Delaware? Well six out of every 100 are rabid. Fortunately, most tend to have the “dumb rabies” strain and simply fall to the ground as the disease progresses. Guess what kills everything that moves on the ground? (Admittedly, so do foxes, raccoons, and skunks, but these animals we’re taught to use caution around. Your child playing in the yard likely has no such fear of a cat coming by.)

Humans contracting and dying from rabies is listed as “uncommon” by health services, but that’s through education and a lot of dumb luck. It tends to be a hot weather disease and with the uncommonly warm summer, the conditions are rife with possibilities.

I have addressed feral cats to DNREC and to the old SPCA with no results. When Levy Court addressed the issue of stray animals some five years ago, Brooks Banta stood up and proclaimed the court would not entertain any discussion of feral cats. Upon my turn to speak I asked where the court of elected officials got the authority to exempt discussion with their electorate on public health issues and spoke about cats anyway. I was followed by several others who did the same.

The SPCA got up and defended the exclusion of cats from Animal Control and told the audience that the only time cats would be caught was if they had bitten someone or exhibited some symptoms of sickness.

The Delaware legislature must stop hiding behind the money being donated to them by these defenders of a public health nuisance. They must stop this insane notion of creating “feral cat sanctuaries”. Feral cats are no different than mouse and rat infestations or mosquito control. At some point they must accept their responsibilities of protecting out communities and our citizens from this fatal disease.

George Roof

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