Nicki Diedrich of Stephenville received alarming news on Thursday, Dec. 31. A dog, which had bit her daughter, had tested positive for rabies.
The 11-year-old was spending time with her grandfather, Diedrich’s father, at the family’s deer lease on Hwy 84 E. past the Jim Hogg State Park, heading towards Reklaw. Other families were also present at the deer lease and the child had spent the day playing with several other girls. The girls had decided to take a walk and were traveling around the outskirts of the deer lease when they came upon a stray dog.
“It was not aggressive at all because my daughter and two of the other little girls bent down and petted the dog.”
The girls decided to carry the dog back to camp with them.
“My daughter bent down and picks the dog up… and it grabs her by the jaw,” Diedrich said. “One of the other little girls helped grab the dog and pull it off.”
The bite broke the skin in four places.
The dog followed the girls back to camp. Diedrich’s father, Jerry Phifer, shot the dog after being informed it had bitten his granddaughter.
“He shot the dog but he remembered that you couldn’t shoot it in the head if you had to send it off to be checked.”
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office was contacted and a deputy came out and picked up the dog. The animal was taken to local veterinarian Dr. Anthony Holcomb who sent it to a state lab in Austin for testing.
“It could have been way worse,” Diedrich said. “It was a couple of slight puncture holes and a scratch, but you could tell where the bottom teeth had scraped on her chin.”
Diedrich cleaned the wounds the best she could and returned home. Everything seemed to be going well, “nothing abnormal going on.”
Then she received the call that left her feeling “terrified.”
“I had several people on the phone with me basically hollering that I needed to get her to the emergency room right away, that it was life or death,” Diedrich said.
“I dropped everything I was doing. I had my husband watch my other kids and took her up to the emergency room here where the ER doctors came in and they gave her eight shots in the neck of immunoglobulin and also a shot in her arm.”
The shot in the arm was the first in series of four mandated by protocol for rabies exposure.
As of Monday, Jan. 4, the girl had received two of the four shots.
The State Health Department in Arlington is assisting Diedrich in locating the two additional doses needed.
Diedrich says her daughter was “shook up about it, she’s cried a lot.”
Information provided to Diedrich by veterinary clinic was also worrisome for her.
“Once a person has been bitten, the virus spreads through the nerves to the brain. It is important to note that bites or scratches on the head or neck are thought to speed up the brain and spinal cord involvement because of the location of the initial trauma. If you are bitten on the neck, seek help as soon as possible,” she read. “Following a bite, the rabies virus spreads by way of nerve cells to the brain. Once in the brain, the virus multiplies rapidly. This activity causes severe inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, after which the person deteriorates rapidly and dies.”
Despite the circumstances, Diedrich feels grateful to her father for his decisive action.
“I’m really, really glad, blessed even, that my dad thought quick enough to shoot it to have it sent in,” Diedrich said. “It is such a small area where it had got her; it’d be just like if a cat scratched somebody.”
Holcome confirmed that animals infected with rabies can act totally normal, even overly friendly.
“It affects any neurological symptom, so that even before they get really advanced with it they can still spread it and seem to act pretty normal,” Holcomb said.
Due to the fact that one can’t tell simply by appearances if an animal has rabies, Holcomb advises people to avoid any stray animals, dogs or cats, when one doesn’t know anything about its history.
Nocturnal animals such as skunks, foxes or bats that are active or out during the day is unusual and may be indicative of rabies and should also be avoided.
With any bite, wound or scratch, the animal needs to be quarantined and observed for 10 days even if vaccinated for rabies, according to Holcomb. If the animal is a stray, the only way to be certain is to send the brain to Austin to be tested.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office was informed that the dog tested positive for rabies, according to Sheriff Brent Dickson. He stated his office had not gone out to inform residents of the incident, but his office would be posting the information to the Cherokee County Sheriff Office Facebook page.