State: Bobcat shot in Athens was rabid

First case of rabies in county in 2013

ATHENS — State Veterinarian Robert Johnson has confirmed that a bobcat that resident Christopher Coburn shot on Valley Cemetery Road last week tested positive for rabies.

Athens Town Health Officer Lisa Dufresne said the location borders approximately eight miles of trail near the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association's Hemlock Trail.

She said she was “concerned” after getting the call about a bobcat that had been under Coburn's deck and “behaving strangely all night long.”

According to Game Warden Greg Eckert, this is only the second bobcat ever to have tested positive for rabies in Vermont. He could not say when or where the first was.

Eckert said Coburn told him two of his dogs had been trying to get at the bobcat.

“Normally bobcats don't get caught by dogs, at least healthy bobcats don't. Dogs will come out the worse for wear. It's a 30-pound cat,” Eckert said. “He [Coburn] shot it and called dispatch, who called me. I said, That doesn't sound like a normal-sounding bobcat,” Eckert said.

Eckert said the stricken animal's head was sent to Johnson for testing.

According to the Vermont Department of Health's rabies fact site, rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the central nervous system and can cause acute encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. It affects wild and domestic animals and humans, who can contract it through a bite.

“Any animal with hair or fur (including humans) can get rabies. However, rabies is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, skunks and foxes. Bats are increasingly implicated in human rabies cases. Cats, dogs and livestock can also get rabies if they have not been vaccinated for rabies,” the site says.

Rabies is transmitted by a bite of an infected animal, commonly a raccoon or skunk.

This bobcat smelled of skunk musk, Johnson said.

The VDH warns that any animals displaying behavior changes such as unusual aggression, extreme depression, or other peculiarities should be considered suspect, and residents should avoid them and call the rabies hotline at 800-472-2437 (1-800-4-Rabies).

According to Johnson, the unique strain of rabies takes several weeks to determine.

Records show rabies spiked in Vermont in 2007 with 85 cases, but only one other case was reported in Windham County that year.

Windham County saw its greatest concentration of rabies infections in 2008 and 2009, with 21 and 11 confirmed cases respectively, with state totals at 72 and 66 during those years, respectively.

In 2012, 67 cases were confirmed statewide, with only one in Windham County.

So far this year, 16 rabies reports have come in for the state, with the bobcat last week being the only one in Windham County. Since 2010, only three total cases of rabies have been confirmed in Windham County.

Only 72 cases have been reported in Windham County since 2002, compared to 607 statewide.

The VHD has engaged in “bait drop” vaccines in eight northern Vermont counties since 1997 aimed at preventing raccoon rabies from reaching Vermont and New Hampshire from Canada.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates