Ealier this week, media began reporting about a new CDC Study. It seems like every time the CDC publishes anything about animals, it tends to do so in a way that creates a swarm of hysteria, and leaves a trail of dead animals in its mist. If taken at face value based on media reports (at this point, I've yet to find a full copy of the report) this appears to be no exception.
The USA Today report starts off the fear mongering this way:
Headline: "Feral Cat Colonies could pose rabies risk CDC says."
Subhead: "Cats are main domestic animal linked to human exposure of rabies."
Lead: "Efforts to care for abandoned cats could mean more huamns will be exposed to Rabies."
Before reading further I was quick to lock my cat up in another room just to be safe.
The story goes on to note that for 30 years the main domestic animal linked to human rabies has been the cat. And in the past 10 years, the number of feral cat colonies has "exploded as animal rights groups fight to end the capturing and killing of strays. These two trends are now on a collision course."
Except, when it's not.
According to the sceintific data (also published by the CDC), in 2010 (the most recent year of the study), there were 6,690 rabid animals reported in the US. That sounds like a lot, go on.
Here are the species of animals that carried those rabies:
1) Racoons: 36.5% of cases
2) Skunks: 23.5% of cases
3) Bats: 23.2% of cases
4) Foxes: 6.9% of cases
5) Cats: 4.9% of cases
6) Cattle: 1.1% of cases
7) Dogs: 1.1% of cases
So, in other words, of the estimated 60 -150 million estimated free-roaming cats in this country, 303 were diagnosed with rabies. That's .0005% -- if you use the lowest estimate of population.
Hmmm, that seems a bit less scary.
So while wildlife accounts for 92% of the total population of rabies cases, cats somehow, as the leader among domesticated animals, ended up with the target on their furry little heads. Anyone suspicious yet?
But wait, there's more from the study:
With the so called "explosion" in feral cat colonies, the increase in cat-diagnosed rabies was only a 1% increase -- which could be a trend, or just a random deviation from year to year. Most likely the latter.
Meanwhile, it's really important to realize exactly how dangerous all of this is to humans. In 2009 (again, the most recent year reported), there were exactly 2 cases of rabies in humans. In the 9 years from 2001 to 2009, that number was exactly 29. Of those 29 (approximately 3 per year), 8 actually got the disease from a bite in another country. 20 contracted it from a bite by a bat.
Since 2001, the number of humans in the US that have contracted rabies from a cat? Zero.
So while the number of feral cat colonies has "exploded" in recent years, the likelihood of a human getting rabies from a cat in the past 13 years? Zero.
Um, what is that collision course thing we were talking about before?
So WTF was the CDC thinking in publishing this?
The facts are what the facts are:
-- People are not contracting rabies in large numbers in this country (roughly 3 per year, 1/3 of those are getting it other countries).
-- In spite of the growth of feral cat colonies, no one in the last 13 years has contracted rabies from a cat.
-- In spite of this supposed growth of rabies, the increase in cats diagnosed has increased only 1%
So why are we trying to scare people about feral cat colonies? Why are they seemingly trying to encourage people to round up and kill feral cats for protection from something that isn't a threat? Why are they not advocating for the roundup and killing of racoons, bats and skunks?
And why would we discourage TNR -- which is what animal welfare groups are promoting which encourages not only altering cats to keep them from being reproducing, but also vaccinating them against rabies in the process? Why are they discouraging a solution that actually a) lowers the population and b) vaccinates cats against this supposed risk?
BTW, it's worth noting that one of the co-authors of this "study" just happens to be George Fenwick -- who is the President of the American Bird Conservancy(ABC). Fenwick is quoted in the USA Today that he predicts that more feral cats will mean "the incidents of rabies exposure is going to increase at a fairly rapid rate (even though, there is no evidence that points to that based on the fact that it hasn't over the last decade).
It's worth noting that the ABC is very outspoken against Feral Cats - so Fenwick is hardly an unbiased source here. But the rabies argument is easily among his worst. Fenwick founded the American Bird Conservency and now makes $170,000 a year doing it. His wife then earns another $85,000 a year off their efforts. So preserving his interests is very lucrative.
It's a shame the CDC allowed Fenwick to influence this study and create hysteria over a problem that doesn't seem to exist and advocate against something that is actually a very viable solution to that supposed problem.
We need to demand better from government published stories and not let outside interest groups impact public policy in a way that creates a slaughter of healthy animals.