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Boy bitten by opossum with rabies

By The Associated Press

This article was published April 26, 2008 at 5:23 p.m.

— A 5-year-old Craighead County child is undergoing a series of shots after being bitten by an opossum that tested positive for rabies.

The child's father found the child playing with the sick animal earlier in the week, Police Sgt. Larry Rogers, who heads the Jonesboro Animal Control Division, said Friday.

"The father brought the opossum to Dr. John Huff at the Animal Medical Center for testing," Rogers said. "The father wanted the opossum's head sent off to be tested for rabies. That test was done, and it came back positive for rabies."

Rogers said it is rare for an opossum to test positive for rabies.

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta listed only one opossum in the United States as testing positive for rabies, Huff said. He said the disease is serious because it is fatal.

"You won't live if you get rabies," Huff said. "It's that fatal."

A veterinarian assistant at Huff's clinic also will have to undergo preventative injections for rabies because he was possibly exposed to the disease when he handled the animal, Huff said.

"Some people think you have to be bitten by the animal to catch rabies, but that's not true," Huff said. "Rabies is passed through the animal's bodily fluids."

The incubation period for rabies is two to eight weeks, but the period may range up to eight months or more, Huff said.

A person who hasn't been vaccinated against rabies needs five injections, Huff said. His assistant will need only two.

Rogers said he was most worried about pet owners whose dogs and cats are not vaccinated. State law requires dog and cat owners to have their animals vaccinated for rabies once a year. The first rabies shot can be given to an animal when it is 12 weeks old, Huff said.

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