Research Changes National Recommendations For Ferret Quarantine

November 04, 1997

MANHATTAN -- New research findings at Kansas State University may mean the difference between life and death for ferrets that have bitten humans.

Speaking from the Rabies in the Americas conference this week in Kingston, Ontario, Deborah Briggs, director of Kansas State University's Rabies Laboratory, said that findings on the virus shedding period for ferrets were presented to the Compendium of Animal Rabies Control Committee at their annual meeting in October.

As a result of three years of research on the pathogenesis of North American rabies virus strains, the Compendium of Animal Rabies Control Committee voted to change regulations to allow quarantine of ferrets rather than requiring euthanasia in bite cases. This research was conducted as a joint effort between the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and Kansas State University.

Recommendations by the Compendium of Animal Rabies Control Committee are used by public-health veterinarians to make policy recommendations on disposition of ferret bite cases, so Briggs' research will have wide implications for the ferret community.

Until now, rabies control recommendations from the Compendium of Animal Rabies Control Committee required that ferrets that have bitten humans be euthanized. The change in the recommendations concerning ferrets that bite humans will impact most, if not all, state rabies regulations, Briggs said. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is currently in the process of rewriting the rabies regulations in Kansas to reflect these new recommendations.

Briggs research suggests that ferrets may be observed for a period of 10 days, identical to the period recommended for dogs and cats in bite cases.

Although the first licensed rabies vaccine was approved for use in domestic ferrets in 1990, healthy, vaccinated ferrets that bite humans routinely have been euthanized and examined for rabies rather than being held and observed. That happened, Briggs said, because there was a lack of information on ferret response to rabies virus infection.

"Until we completed this research we didn't know how long the virus shedding period was for ferrets," Briggs said. The shedding period is the time an infected animal can pass the virus to another, most commonly through biting.

The three-year project was supported by the Morris Animal Foundation, Intervet Inc., Rhone Merieux Inc., and Marshall Ferret Farms, with cooperation from the Centers for Disease Control.

Briggs' laboratory does most of the testing of animals in the United States going to rabies-free areas in the world.

"We conduct all rabies serological testing for animals owned by civilians going to Hawaii," Briggs said. "Last year we tested 30,000 samples and this year we will exceed that amount. We test most animals going to Australia, New Zealand, British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Hong Kong, and other rabies-free countries like Norway. Animal samples are submitted from throughout the world. In addition we continue to conduct most serological testing for humans that have been vaccinated. We are currently involved in testing samples from France, Thailand, and are collaborating on a study to investigate the immune response of immunosuppressed humans to rabies vaccines.

"The laboratory is also the only rabies diagnostic laboratory in the state of Kansas. We work closely with the Centers for Disease Control as far as surveillance of rabid animals in Kansas is concerned."

For more information, contact Briggs at (785) 532-4455 or send her e-mail her at

Prepared by Cheryl May.

Kansas State University

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