THE Department of Agriculture is liaising with international veterinary authorities following confirmation of rabies in an imported pet in Cork.
An 8km surveillance zone remains in place around Riverstick after test results last week confirmed that a sable — a species of marten - had been exposed to lyssavirus, more commonly known as rabies.
The surveillance zone combined with restrictions on the gatherings of certain animals will remain in place for up to a month.
The infected pet is believed to have been imported from Russia via Italy and England, by a homeowner who lives in Riverstick, near Kinsale in County Cork.
The Department declined to comment on the international dimension of its involvement in this case other than to confirm that it is liaising with the "relevant veterinary authorities connected with this case".
Concerns were first flagged on January 7 when the department said it was made aware of a sable that was intermittently displaying “atypical behaviour”.
It is understood that the animal's owner raised concerns about their pet with a local vet who immediately recognised the symptoms.
The Department said it is satisfied that the animal was kept securely confined at a private house and there was no evidence of contact with animals outside the household.
But the animal was euthanised when the initial investigation could not rule out rabies infection.
The Department has been liaising closely with both the HSE’s regional Department of Public Health and Health Protection Surveillance Centre, which has led to the identification and follow up a small number of people who may have been exposed to the animal.
While initial screening tests by the department’s Central Veterinary Laboratory and the European Reference Laboratory in France were negative, further test results released last Thursday found evidence of low levels of lyssavirus genetic material in brain samples taken from the animal.
The Department said that based on these results, rabies cannot be ruled out in the sable.
And while no contact with any other animals outside the household has been identified, and the likelihood of spread to other animals in the area is extremely low, the Department has imposed precautionary measures in the surveillance zone, prohibiting the gatherings of dogs, cats or ferrets, including hunting, sales and fairs, for a month, subject to review.
Owners of dogs, cats and ferrets have been advised to monitor the health and behaviour of their animals and report any abnormal or unusual behaviour to the department.
Signs of disease involve changes in behaviour, such as unusual aggression, fearfulness or friendliness out of character for the individual animal.
Ireland has been rabies-free since 1903.
Rabies is responsible for up to 59,000 human deaths per year, with most occurring in developing countries caused by dog bites. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals.
Information is available from the department’s regional office in Cork on 021-4851400
:: This story first appeared in The Irish Examiner.