Advisory: This article includes a description of how rabies tests are conducted, and may not be appropriate for all readers.
A state Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed that "there is no threat to the public" from contact with Wise Guy, a horse stabled at the Jack Russo & Sons Farm at 315 Morgan Ave., following an Oct. 7 rabies alert.
Public Information Officer Annemarie Beardsworth, in a pair of email messages sent Oct. 24 and 25, explained how a rabies test on Wise Guy produced an "inconclusive" result, leading the department to issue the alert and recommend vaccinations for family members and workers at the farm.
The horse had been showing signs of a neurological disease known as EPM, or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, and was euthanized on Oct. 3, according to a Providence Journal report published Oct. 7.
EPM is a disease caused by exposure to opossum feces, according to EPMhorse.com. Infection occurs when a horse ingests contaminated feed, hay, grass, or water.
State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall was quoted by the newspaper as saying the health department sought a rabies test because the attending veterinarian had not conducted one.
Conducting the rabies test required exhuming the horse's body to get a sample of brain tissue, the newspaper reported.
Beardsworth wrote that because "the horse had already been buried [prior to the test] and the brain had already begun to decompose," Health officials could not make a definite determination on whether he may have been rabid.
"The test results on the horse were inconclusive, so we cannot say one way or the other if the horse had rabies," Beardsworth explained.
Beardworth also wrote that 14 people were treated for "potential exposure," including workers at the farm and Wise Guy's owner and his family.
The treatment requires four doses of vaccine to be administered over a months' time, Beardsworth added.
"There is a standard protocol for rabies because once an individual develops symptoms, rabies is fatal and the vaccine will not be effective," Beardsworth wrote.
What do you think? Should the Health Department have issued the rabies warning? Take our poll, and post your comments below.