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Health official wary of raccoon rabies strand new to Omaha

Posted at 6:37 PM, Oct 16, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A form of rabies never found in the Omaha area before has health officials concerned.

It started after a stray kitten died of rabies in Omaha, and was found to have a strain we're unfamiliar with locally: raccoon rabies.

Raccoon rabies is "very uncommon" west of the Appalachian mountains and hasn't been found here before, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

"Rabies is nearly always fatal," said Huse. "So we are taking all of the proper steps to make sure it doesn't spread or get established here in Douglas County."

But ten people in Omaha who were exposed to the kitten are taking vaccinations and doing well, Huse said.

She said the U.S. only has two of the about 60,000 rabies human deaths to rabies worldwide each year.

"We would really like to keep it that way," she said.

But Huse and other health officials are concerned because raccoons are common here. There are 40-50 raccoons per square kilometer in Omaha, a Douglas County Health Department spokesperson said.

Those raccoons interact with pets who interact with humans, Huse said.

Anyone who sees roadkill, stray or wild animals is encouraged to call the Nebraska Humane Society at (402) 444-4800 ext. 1, especially if the animal is acting strange, which could be a sign it's rabid.

They also encourage you to vaccinate your pets against rabies.

Part of the effort to make sure a second case isn't found includes trapping raccoons and vaccinating them. Officials are focusing east of 72nd Street and between F and Fort Streets.

If you live in that area, you might soon get a letter from the USDA or a knock on your door asking to use your yard. They'll be clearly identifiable as USDA employees, Huse said.

Huse said pet owners should keep an eye on their furry friends.

"This is not the time, especially in that targeted area, to let your animals roam free without supervision," said Huse.

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