An adorable stray kitten sparked a huge rabies scare after it was rescued by a couple in Nebraska.
Madeline and Rich Wahl rescued the five-week-old kitten, which weighed only two pounds, after it was discovered by a friend in Omaha in September.
The stray kitten, which the couple named Stanley, was then taken to the vet after it stopped eating and was having convulsions. The Wahls also discovered one of Stanley’s pupils was larger than the other.
The couple initially thought Stanley was experiencing an adverse response to ringworm treatment, but the vet determined the five-week-old kitten was suffering from a rare form of rabies transmitted through raccoons.
Stanley died suddenly the day after his trip to the vet, and now tests are being conducted to see whether he infected any of the 10 humans he is believed to have bitten or scratched.
It is currently unknown how Stanley became infected.
It is most likely the kitten – or his pregnant mother – could have been bitten by a raccoon, according to experts.
Scientists have warned if the disease spreads unchecked, it could “snowball very quickly” and affect seven million people in the US, according to the Washington Post.
Genetic testing showed the kitten was carrying a kind of rabies that has never been seen in Nebraska before and is often associated with raccoons east of Appalachia.
Rabies can be lethal in humans if treatment is not received prior to the onset of symptoms, and scientists have warned the disease could spread to South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas over the course of five years if left unchecked.
”It’s something that can snowball very quickly,” County Health Director Lindsay Huse said.
“The goal is to prevent this raccoon variant of rabies from establishing itself here in our area. This would cause a substantial impact if it happened and put many people in danger.”
The 10 individuals, including the Wahls, their friend, and veterinary staff members who had been bitten or scratched by Stanley, were contact traced by health officials and given four doses of the rabies vaccine and one dose of human rabies immune globulin, which can neutralise the virus.
Douglas County Health authorities also rushed to vaccinate 1,000 raccoons in the surrounding region.
The incubation period of the virus ranges from one week to three months, meaning it will not be confirmed until early next year whether the virus has spread.
Nonetheless, the Wahls were praised for their quick action, which could have prevented a major rabies outbreak.
“Had my husband not resuscitated him, we likely would have buried the kitten in our back yard, and not known about him being rabies positive,” Ms Wahl told the Washington Post.
Five Americans died of rabies in 2021, the highest number in a decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
All the deaths stemmed from contact with bats.
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