Kitten’s scratching and biting rampage sparks health scare for 7,000,000 people

Stanley the kitten tragically died after contracting a rare form of rabies (Picture: Madeline Wahl/Getty)

This newborn kitten might look cute but it was responsible for a health scare that could affect 7million people.

The stray, called Stanley, scratched or bit at least 10 people after it contracted a rare form of rabies transmitted through racoons.

The five-week-old cat died suddenly after being rehomed in Omaha, Nebraska, in September.

And now, after tests, scientists are scrambling to establish how far the lethal infection has gone. They have warned that it could ‘snowball very quickly’.

It is feared up to 7million US residents could be at increased risk of the lethal infection, according to the Washington Post.

The black and white kitten was taken in by Madeline and Rich Wahl after being found by a friend in Omaha on September 26, and named Stanley.

But within days Stanley, who weighed barely two pounds, stopped eating and started having seizures, then stopped breathing.

Mr Wahl resuscitated him with chest compressions before rushing him to a vet.

They listed more than 20 different potential causes, with rabies the least likely.

Tests after Stanley died found he had a raccoon variant of rabies (Picture: Madeline Wahl)

But tests conducted 48 hours later found he had the rare strain – usually linked to raccoons east of the Appalachia region, which spans 13 states from southern New York to northern Mississippi.

It has never been detected in Nebraska, which is in the Midwest.

If the virus was allowed to spread unchecked in raccoons, it could reach South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, putting an estimated 7million people at risk, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ryan Wallace, who leads the CDC rabies epidemiology team, said: ‘My first thought was “It has to be a mistake”’.

The discovery saw more than a dozen wildlife biologists from eight states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, deployed to Omaha in the hope of stopping the spread of the virus.

Officials spent 10 days trapping and vaccinating animals, including more than 753 raccoons and 41 skunks, in a 61-mile radius of where the cat was found.

The adorable kitten was taken in by a couple in Omaha, Nebraska (Picture: Madeline Wahl)

Director of health for Douglas County in Nebraska, Lindsay Huse, said officials are aiming to vaccinate about 1,000 raccoons, according to the Nebraska Examiner.

‘It’s something that can snowball very quickly,’ Mr Huse said.

‘The goal is to prevent this raccoon variant from establishing itself here in our area.

‘This would cause a substantial impact it if happened and put many people in danger.’

Health officials tracked down 10 people, including Mr and Mrs Wahl, their friend who found Stanley, and veterinary staff, who had been scratched or bitten by the kitten.

Genetic sequencing revealed Stanley had a strain of raccoon rabies (Picture: Getty Images)

They were given treatment to neutralise the virus, at a cost of around $8,000 (£6,345).

The incubation period of the virus ranges from one week to three months, meaning it will not be confirmed until early next year whether the virus has spread.

It is currently unknown how Stanley became infected.

It is most likely the kitten – or his pregnant mother – could have been bitten by a raccoon, experts say.

Officials hailed Mr and Mrs Wahl’s quick action, the vet who flagged the kitten should be tested, and the state lab which conducted the genetic sequencing.

Mrs Wahl told the Post: ‘Had my husband not resuscitated him, we likely would have buried the kitten in our back yard, and not known about him being rabies positive.’

Just one to three rabies cases are reported each year but around 60,000 US citizens receive post-exposure treatment annually after being bitten or scratched by animals infected or suspected of being infected, according to the CDC.

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