Minnesota plans statewide rabies rule

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MPR file photo

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is writing a new rule to require rabies vaccination for all dogs in Minnesota.

I assumed this was already the case, but Minnesota is one of 10 states without a rabies vaccination requirement.

No one knows how many dogs in Minnesota aren’t vaccinated. Rules are left up to local governments who license pets like dogs and cats. In many rural areas there is no rabies vaccine requirement, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

There aren’t a lot of documented rabies cases in Minnesota — about 60 last year. The most common carriers are skunks, followed by bats.

Typically there are a half dozen or fewer cases in dogs each year. But Dr. Joni Scheftel, a public health veterinarian at the state Health Department said nearly all of those cases are unvaccinated dogs from rural areas that tussled with an infected skunk.

In rural areas, dogs tend to have more freedom to roam and run into those skunks.

Human cases of rabies are rare but always deadly. Scheftel said the bigger problem is all the people who need rabies shots because a dog that bit them wasn’t vaccinated. From 2003 to 2009 there were 24 rabid dogs reported in Minnesota, she said.

As a result, 360 people needed shots. Total cost: $1.1 million. Scheftel said the cost of rabies shots for a human after they are bitten is 19 times greater than the cost of vaccinating a dog against rabies. Prevention is cheaper than the cure.

The rule would exempt animal shelters. On a related note, the Centers for Disease Control is suggesting animal shelter workers be vaccinated for rabies because they are among the people most likely to be exposed to rabies.

That recommendation was highlighted by a case at a Grand Forks shelter last year. A dog from rural Minnesota with no record of vaccination caused 21 people to need rabies shots.

The rabies vaccine rule is still being written. The approval process will take at least a year and there will be a chance for public input before the rule is finalized.

One sticking point could be enforcement of the new rule. In rural areas that would be up to the county sheriff in most cases.