Rabies in a lamb and cow at a petting zoo (or more accurately, in a communal group of hobby animals) has been reported in Israel. This follows identification of rabies in another lamb from the same group last week. Little is reported about possible sources of infection of these animals, at Kibbutz Neve Eitan, or how widespread human exposure may have been. It’s a concern given the serious nature of rabies and the possibility that there was largely uncontrolled contact with the public, which complicates tracing of potential exposures. Given the state of rabies in Israel, the canine rabies variant is most likely the cause.

Presumably, public health and Kibbutz personnel are contacting people in the area to determine who may have had contact with the animals. Casual contact is not a risk for rabies transmission – it is only transmitted through contact of an open wound or mucous membrane (e.g. nose, mouth, eyes) with saliva from an infected animal. The risk of transmission to humans from contact with species like sheep and cattle is pretty low, however the tendency of young animals to suck on things and the fact that people often let them suck on a fingers when playing with them raises the potential for exposure. Anyone identified as having high-risk contact needs post-exposure treatment, consisting of a shot of anti-rabies antibodies and a series of four vaccines over the course of a month (unless they have been previously vaccinated against rabies, in which case they just need two booster shots).

Any animals involved in public displays, petting zoos or other events where there may be contact with the public should be vaccinated against rabies. That’s particularly true in areas such as Israel, where rabies is endemic.