OKLAHOMA CITY - Health officials in Oklahoma City are searching for anyone who had direct contact with a kitten who was found to have rabies.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health says the kitten was six to eight-weeks-old and was found in the area of N.W. 10th and Purdue, near the Central Oklahoma Winnelson Company in Oklahoma City.
"It was ill-appearing had a little bit of an unsteady walk," said Amanda Shoemate, an epidemiologist at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. "It also had some discharge from its eyes and nose. It was also flea infested so it was very ill-appearing."
Someone found the orange-and-white kitten June 8 and turned it into OKC Animal Welfare. It died a few days later and was sent to OSDH where it tested positive for rabies.
"In this case we're concerned because the rabid kitten was found in a public area," Shoemate said. "We're not sure how long it's been in the area."
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can be fatal.
Skunks and bats typically carry the virus but can spread it to people or other animals through bites or saliva. Stray populations can be especially susceptible.
A person who was bitten or was exposed to the kitten's saliva may have been exposed to the rabies virus.
"Human rabies is almost always fatal," Shoemate said. "Once symptoms have onset it's usually too late."
While approaching or petting a rabid animal may not lead a person to contract the virus, the health department is warning people to be careful.
It's smart to vaccinate pets to ensure they don't receive rabies either.
"Just be cautious and if you do decide to handle [a rabid animal] and take the appropriate precautions, maybe wear gloves," Shoemate said.
Health experts are asking anyone who may have been bitten or come in direct contact with the kitten between May 29 and June 8 to contact the health department at (405) 271-4060 or (800) 234-5963.
Officials say the kitten is the first rabid animal identified in Oklahoma County in 2017.