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From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
October 6, 1999

Multiple Human Exposures to a Rabid Bear Cub at a Petting Zoo and Barnwarming— Iowa, August 1999

JAMA. 1999;282(13):1222. doi:10.1001/jama.282.13.1222-JWR1006-4-1

MMWR. 1999;48:761

On August 27, 1999, a black bear cub, approximately 5-6 months old, died after several hours of acute central nervous system symptoms; preliminary test results available on August 28 indicated the bear had rabies. The bear was part of the Swenson's Wild Midwest Exotic Petting Zoo in Clermont, Iowa (northeastern Iowa). At the petting zoo, visitors fed, wrestled, and may have been nipped by the bear. The bear also was taken to an August 14 barnwarming at the Tharp barn in Holy Cross, Iowa (eastern Iowa), where it reportedly nipped people. An estimated 400 people from 10 states (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and Australia had contact with the bear cub at either the petting zoo or the barnwarming during the 28 days before its death, during which the bear may have transmitted rabies virus.

On the basis of telephone calls to petting zoo visitors who signed the guest register and provided contact information, approximately 150 of the 400 persons were exposed to the bear's saliva and need to obtain vaccine and rabies immune globulin. Public health authorities are attempting to contact petting zoo visitors by telephone and the Internet. However, because not all petting zoo visitors signed the register or provided sufficient information to enable health authorities to locate them, state and local health departments are encouraged to ensure local media coverage to alert persons who had contact with the bear after July 30 to the need for exposure assessment. Persons who attended the barnwarming also need to be assessed for prophylaxis.

Information is available from the emergency telephone number of the Iowa Department of Public Health: (515) 323-4360.

Reported by

Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology, Iowa Dept of Public Health.