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State to end subsidized rabies treatment

Posted: July 19, 2013 - 12:07am

KODIAK — Beginning Jan. 1, the state of Alaska will no longer offer a subsidized treatment plan for rabies infections.

The state’s epidemiology department sent an email this week saying it will no longer give away “rabies post-exposure prophylaxis,” the medicine used to treat people exposed to rabies, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.

“For decades, the state has just had it and given it out for free,” epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale said. “That piece is going to be changing.”

The announcement comes two weeks after a pair of rabid wolves were located in Interior Alaska.

Rabies is typically spread through animal bites and is fatal if untreated. Rabies is found in wild animals in northern and western Alaska, but the discovery of two rabid wolves killed by trappers in the Chandalar Lake area, about 185 miles north of Fairbanks, was the first reports in the Interior.

From 2008-2012, the state paid $450,000 for the medicine to treat rabies in 107 people, including 91 Alaska residents. Thirty of those Alaskans were infected outside the state, as were the 16 non-Alaska residents.

Officials say that money is a big chunk of the division’s $18 million annual budget, and canceling the subsidization will allow the department to stave off rising costs in other areas.

“This isn’t money we now have freed up to do something else with,” Castrodale said.

The Centers for Disease Control says there’s no shortage of drugs to treat rabies, and clinics and hospitals should have no difficulty in securing it, which wasn’t the case when the state started the program four decades ago.

The state will continue other parts of its rabies-fighting program, including rabies tests on suspected animals and free animal vaccines in its “lay vaccinator” program in rural areas.

“All the testing, all the consultation, all that continues,” Castrodale said.

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