Department of Agriculture to charge fee for rabies testing

In 2017, Warren County was one of eight in Pennsylvania that did not have a confirmed case of a rabid animal.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture tracks rabies and is the agency that tests animals that are suspected of having the disease.

Due to budget constraints, there is now a fee associated with that testing service.

“It’s not actually a fee for the rabies testing,” Spokesman Will Nichols said. “We’ve run into a situation where the courier fees are going up. The $25 fee helps to offset part of the cost of the courier service.”

So, if a person can deliver the suspect animal to the Department of Agriculture Laboratory in Harrisburg, there is not a fee.

For most Warren County cases, the $25 fee is going to be better than taking a special trip to the state capital.

But, it still could keep people from having an animal tested.

“That’s a concern,” Nichols said. “We’re just dealing with a limited budget. We hope that, if it’s a situation where someone may have been exposed, or their pets may have been exposed to a rabid animal, we’re hoping people will be willing to get that test done.”

“Rabies is transmitted through saliva, through blood,” he said.

“If an animal waddles over to you and rubs its belly on your pant leg, maybe that’s not an exposure.”

“If you are petting it, that’s a potential exposure hazard,” Nichols said. “If it bites you, that’s definite.”

“If the fee keeps some specimens from being submitted, hopefully those are specimens that pose less risk for the public,” he said.

“If it’s a bat inside the house and you don’t know where it was, you want to consider rabies testing,” Nichols said. “If it’s a raccoon that you found (dead) when you were hiking in the woods somewhere north of Sheffield…” there is less urgency.

“If it’s a feral cat around the community, it could be symptomatic of a colony of feral cats with rabies,” he said. “We hope that, in cases like that, where it could be more of a human health hazard” someone would pay the courier fee to get the sample to the lab.

“The only way to test for rabies is to euthanize the animal and have it submitted to an approved laboratory for testing,” according to the Department of Agriculture website.

Nichols suggested visiting the site for more information about rabies. “If they have questions, if they have concerns, visit agriculture.pa.gov, type rabies in the search bar.”

In Pennsylvania, animal bites, whether rabies is suspected or not, must be reported to the Department of Health.

“If a person has been bitten or scratched by a mammal, either domestic or wild, but the animal is not available for observation or testing, they should seek medical assistance immediately,” according to the agriculture website. “The medical professional must notify the county or local Department of Health office. The Department of Health should be notified by the medical professional and consulted for advice on whether the exposed person should start receiving rabies treatment.”

There are preventative measures in place to help prevent the spread of rabies.

“Our Pennsylvania Dog Law and Rabies Law concurrently require all dogs and cats three months and older to be vaccinated for rabies,” Nichols said. “If they’re your pets, they should have a rabies vaccination. And they should be kept up to date.”

“If you have other animals, livestock, talk to your veterinarian to see if rabies vaccination is the right protocol,” he said.

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