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Massachusetts health officials post rabies warning

Massachusetts public health officials, concerned about potential rabies cases, are asking anyone who may have touched a young black and white calf in a pasture adjacent to Gray’s Ice Cream in Tiverton, R.I., to contact them as soon as possible.

On July 15, a Massachusetts resident was bitten by a calf that was in the small pasture next to the shop at 16 East Road.

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The three month-old steer, known as Oreo, was then placed into quarantine that prevented any contact with the public, but the animal died in quarantine before testing by Rhode Island officials could be completed to determine whether the animal had rabies, state health officials said in a statement Thursday.

The calf died July 21, but Rhode Island officials weren’t notified until three days later when the animal’s body was too decomposed for a reliable test, Rhode Island health officials said.

Out of an abundance of caution, public health officials are considering that this animal may have died from rabies and are viewing anyone that had contact with the animal’s saliva from July 5 through July 21 as potentially at risk for being exposed to rabies. They are recommending that they be evaluated for post-exposure vaccination by public health authorities.

Transmission of rabies from an infected cow to a human is very rare but possible, officials said. People usually contract rabies through a bite from an infected animal, but can be infected when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or into a person’s eye or mouth.

Without proper treatment for rabies exposure, the infection is virtually always fatal. Proper post-exposure vaccination can prevent infection and death.

Massachusetts residents who had contact with the animal are asked to call the state Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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