Following the sudden death of a young calf in a pasture adjacent to Gray’s Ice Cream in Tiverton, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) are advising any individuals who may have touched the animal to contact DOH.
On July 15, a Massachusetts resident was bitten by a calf that was in a small pasture next to the ice cream shop at 16 East Road in Tiverton, according to a press release issue Thursday. Massachusetts Public Health authorities were notified of the bite and the incident was then reported to DEM. DEM in turn notified the Tiverton animal control officer, who issued an order of quarantine for the animal since all bites from mammals are considered potential rabies exposures. The three-month-old black-and-white steer, known as Oreo, was then placed into quarantine by construction of a barrier that prevented any contact with the public.
The animal was found dead on July 21 while still under the 10-day quarantine period. The calf’s owner promptly notified Tiverton authorities on July 21. DEM was not notified of the animal’s death until July 24. DEM attempted to obtain tissues from the animal for rabies testing, but the animal’s condition was too decomposed to test.
“Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, public health officials are considering that this animal may have died from rabies,” and are viewing anyone who had contact with the animal’s saliva from July 5 through July 21 as potentially at risk for being exposed to rabies, and are recommending that they be evaluated for post-exposure vaccination by public health authorities. The calf was removed from direct public contact on July 16, and only the animal’s handlers are likely to have been exposed during the period from July 16 through July 21.
Nationwide, cattle and cats are the domestic animal species that are most frequently infected with rabies. Transmission of rabies from an infected cow to a human is very rare, but possible. People usually contract rabies through a bite from an infected animal, but there are other ways that they can be exposed, such as through saliva from an infected animal getting into an open wound or into a person’s eye or mouth. Without proper treatment for rabies exposure, rabies can develop and the infection is virtually always fatal. Proper post-exposure vaccination can prevent infection and death.
Rhode Island residents who had contact with this calf between July 5 and July 21 should contact the Rhode Island Department of Health at 222-2577. Massachusetts residents who had contact with the animal are asked to call the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800. DOH staff will assess each individual’s level of contact with the animal and determine whether any contact may have resulted in potential rabies exposure. If DOH determines that contact did result in potential exposure, DOH will recommend treatment. When administered properly, post-exposure treatment for rabies will prevent any person who was exposed to the virus from developing the disease and prevent death.
Gray’s Ice Cream is a popular location for tourists and local residents. Public health officials are working under the assumption that there are a large number of people who may have visited the store between July 5 and July 16 and touched the suspect calf. Rhode Island public health officials are also working with their counterparts from Massachusetts since Gray’s commonly draws customers from nearby Massachusetts.