Quarantining animals that have potentially been exposed to rabies is a standard practice, but quarantining a whole town is new to me. Because of a large increase in rabies cases in the Flagstaff, Arizona area, a rabies quarantine was established on April 8th by the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. The quarantine requires all dogs and cats to be enclosed or secured on their owner’s property. When off the property, animals must be on a leash that is no longer than six feet in length. All dogs and cats must be vaccinated, and low-cost rabies vaccine clinics have been held to help increase compliance with this requirement. Vaccination of wildlife using baits containing an oral form of rabies vaccine will also be performed. The quarantine also restricts feeding and interacting with wildlife. Also, people cannot leave pet food outside after sunset and all compost piles must be completely enclosed.

This is an aggressive approach to rabies control in an area experiencing a wildlife outbreak of the disease. They’ve implemented comprehensive but still quite practical measures that should help reduce the risk of exposure of domestic animals (and people) without a significant negative impact on pet owners. I’ve mentioned my concerns about rabies vaccine clinics in the past, but this is a situation where I think it’s a good idea.

It’s always hard to evaluate the effectiveness of outbreak measures, because you never know what would have happened if nothing had been done. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how well this quarantine works, both in terms of the number of new rabies cases they see and the response of citizens to these restrictions. It would be very useful if Coconino County personnel provide information about how things went when the quarantine is over – the information might be useful for management of future rabies outbreaks.