Animal Health & Behavior

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1993:

CDC goes to rat-@#$%
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention blame an unknown Hantaan virus probably
transmitted by rodents for causing flu-like symptoms that
killed 19 residents of the Four Corners region of New
Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado during May and
June. Most of the victims were Native Americans.
Hantaan viruses are typically transmitted through inhala-
tion, after becoming airborne with evaporated urine.
The transmission route for this as yet unidentified virus
has not been found, and investigators have been thwarted
by the reluctance of Navajo victims’ families, in particu-
lar, to speak either of the dead or of matters involving
their religion and rituals. However, Nevada paleoenvi-
ronmental researcher Peter E. Wigand, who seeks clues
to ecological history in ancient deposits of crystalized rat
urine, may have unwittingly provided a clue to the out-
break last January, before it actually occurred. Wigand

and fellow scientists at the Desert Research Institute in
Reno compete with Native American healers throughout
the southwest for access to the rat urine deposits, called
middens, many of which are still serving as rat latrines
even after thousands of years. As Wigand explained to
The New York Times, “Several Native American tribes
prepare a kind of tea from crystalized rat urine, which
they drink as a medicinal cathartic.” Such a tea, carrying
a weak Hantaan virus from recent rat excretions, could
serve as a sort of self-vaccination; but if the virus mutat-
ed into a stronger form, it could overwhelm the drinker’s
immune system. The CDC meanwhile is focusing its
efforts on rodent control––which may have been necessi-
tated by intensive “coyote control” waged by sheep ranch-
ers and the federal Animal Damage Control program in
much of the same area.
The fossilized right
Trilobites, distant ancestors of horseshoe
crabs who lived from 550 to 230 million years ago, tend-
ed to turn right to avoid attack by an ancient crustacean
called Anomalocaris, according to a study of fossils by
paleontologists Loren Babcock of Ohio State University
and Richard Robison of the University of Kansas. More
than 70% of apparent bite wounds suffered by trilobites
were on the right side of their tails. The study indicates
that “handedness” occured extremely early in evolution.
Diseased dog exports
Agriculture Canada announced June 9 that it
intends to impose tough new health rules to prevent the
import of diseased puppies from U.S. puppy mills. Under
consideration are a ban on the import of puppies under
eight weeks of age; a requirement that all canines be vac-
cinated against distemper and parvovirus as well as rabies;
a stipulation that travel time from source to delivery be
under 36 hours, and a requirement that all canines receive
a veterinary inspection at the point of departure. To be
issued by Order of the Cabinet rather than via Parliament,
the rules will probably take effect next year. Since
Canada began border inspections of puppy shipments on
December 10, 1992, 450 puppies from 17 different loads
have been rejected for health reasons, while 5,677 have
been accepted. Canada imports about 20,000 U.S. pup-
pies per year.
Lyme disease update
Lyme disease cases reported to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention totaled 9,677 in 1992, up
from 497 in 1983, before the symptoms were widely rec-
ognized. According to Joachin Oppenheimer, M.D., of
Glen Rock, New Jersey, who has investigated Lyme dis-
ease prevention in his capacity as chair of the North
Jersey chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, “The
occurrence of Lyme disease follows somewhat the pattern
of the horse population, being more common in horse
country, although this has never been formally studied. It
certainly does not correlate with the density of wooded
areas or deer populations,” which have been blamed for
the spread of Lyme disease throughout New England. In
any event, late summer is the peak period for infection
via Lyme-carrying ticks. Since keeping one’s body com-
pletely covered with clothing and insect repellent is cum-
bersome and uncomfortable, New York Medical College
entomologist Durland Fish, M.D., advises early-summer
yard application of any of three pesticides: carbaryl
(Sevin), chlorpyrifos (Dursban), and cyflutherin
(Tempo). “It takes only one or at most two applications to
reduce the tick population and the risk of Lyme by 95%,”
Fish claims. Researchers are now studying means of
keeping the host wildlife tick-free. In one experiment,
mice were tick-free for months after being given cotton
balls soaked in tick repellent to use in making their nests.
New Zealand agriculture minister John
Fallon announced June 2 that the government would not
release the flea-borne disease myxomatosis to control rab-
bits because the deadly disease, long used in Australia,
might also harm native kiwis. “Myxomatosis is not an
acceptable option,” Fallon said, catching immediate flak
from Federated Farmers president Owen Jennings, who
accused him of “pandering to a lunatic fringe of the ani-
mal rights movement,” namely the New Zealand SPCA.
An unidentified respiratory infection that
killed hundreds of gannets and loons in southern Florida
early this year is now hitting the same species in North
Carolina, and evidently hindering migration, as at this
time of year the birds are usually in Canada, Maine, and
the Great Lakes region.
California game wardens on June 11 seized
and killed 71 ducks and geese who had been taken to a
farm north of Los Angeles by Venice residents who
argued that they should have been quarantined instead.
The waterfowl, who lived in the Venice canal system,
had been exposed to duck virus entiritus, a contagious
disease that brings death from internal bleeding and organ
damage. Of the 400 birds believed to have been at risk,
about 200 died of the disease or were euthanized; the rest
remain at large and are considered a possible threat to the
2.8 million waterfowl who use the Pacific Flyway. The
Wildlife Protection League won a restraining order against
the preventive killing on May 24, a day after about 100
Venetians formed a human wall between the ducks and
the wardens’ first attempt at euthanasia. The order was
lifted June 10, whereupon the protesters tried to evacuate
the remaining ducks before the wardens could catch them.
Veterinary news
The Pennsylvania legislature bailed out the
University of Pennsylvania veterinary school June 2 by
including retroactive appropriations in the state budget.
The school was due to close from lack of funding in last
year’s budget. Even with the new funds, the veterinary
school expects a deficit of $12 million over the next two
years, which equals the state appropriation for one year.
Evan M. Morse, who 23 years ago became the
first Afro-American veterinarian in northeastern Ohio,
was honored recently as one of Cleveland’s outstanding
Afro-American entrepreneurs. Morse has operated the
Warrensville Animal Hospital and Four Gables Kennel in
Warrensville Heights since 1973, and is also co-founder
of a mobile free veterinary clinic that serves the poor.
A device called Aqua Cow, invented by Danish
dairyman John Lanstein, uses 700 gallons of warm water
to lift downed cattle to their feet. The device is much gen-
tler than the slings and tackle usually used to raise down-
ers, who may suffocate from the weight of their own bod-
ies pressing on their lungs if they aren’t promptly raised.
A nesting osprey somehow bridged two trans-
mission wires in Mattituck, Long Island, New York, on
June 2, causing a power failure that in turn led to the
release of toxic formaldehyde gas at the Plum Island
Animal Disease Center run by the USDA. About 30
staffers were temporarily evacuated. The gas was being
used to kill microorganisms in a research laboratory prior
to the start of an experiment.
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