Three Stearns County Cattle Test Positive for Rabies

Publish Date
Dan Callahan

A total of three steers on a Stearns County farm have tested positive for rabies.

The farmers first noticed abnormal behavior in a steer that went down on May 11, 2024, and died the next day. This steer was not submitted for rabies testing. On May 13, 2024, the owners noticed another steer acting unusually. The steer was found down on the ground, with drooling and lack of coordination. Rabies was immediately suspected by the local veterinarian. The steer was euthanized and prepared for testing by the veterinarian and submitted to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL). Rabies was confirmed by testing at the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory (PHL) on May 17. On May 24, a third steer began showing signs consistent with the furious form of rabies, with excessive vocalization and aggressive pacing of the fence line. On May 27, a fourth steer also became clinical, showing signs similar to the first two positive cases. Both steers were euthanized and submitted for rabies testing at the PHL where they were confirmed rabies positive on May 30.

Following the investigation of the first rabid steer, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (the Board) placed the remaining group of steers under quarantine and recommended rabies vaccination of the herd. The Board determined a dog on the farm may have had exposure to the rabid steer after it died. The dog was recommended to receive a rabies booster and be confined to the farm for a 45-day observation. Feral cats on the premises were unvaccinated against rabies and likely had exposure to both steers. The owners opted to have the cats euthanized out of caution.

The Board conducted a second investigation after the additional two steers tested positive for rabies on May 30. BAH extended the quarantine period for the steer group. The steers were housed in a separate building and would not have contact with any other cattle on the farm.

MDH epidemiologists investigated after the first rabid steer and determined the owners were not exposed and did not require rabies post exposure prophylaxis (PEP). The attending veterinarian punctured his glove and the skin on his hand while preparing the rabid steer for lab submission. He was recommended to receive the rabies boosters. The farm owners were re-interviewed after confirmation of the additional rabid steers. They were found to have significant contact with those steer and recommended PEP. Their children may have also had contact with those steer and were recommended PEP.

Although there were no skunks seen recently on the farm, it is likely a skunk had been on the property and around the cattle within the past six months. Historically, Stearns County has had more positive skunks compared to other counties.

Skunks are a reservoir species for rabies in Minnesota, which means the virus spreads at low levels within the skunk population. When skunks are infected with rabies and become ill, they can display aggression, daytime activity, fearlessness, and staggered movements. Due to these behaviors, they may approach cattle or other livestock without fear. If a skunk is spotted during the day, regardless of its behavior, it is advised that people and animals stay away. If possible, local animal control should be contacted to safely remove the animal. Skunks displaying abnormal behavior or found on farm properties with livestock or domestic pets should be submitted for rabies testing. For this reason, it is important to keep your dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and sheep current on their rabies vaccinations.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health publishes rabies alerts when a domestic animal tests positive for rabies in Minnesota. If you have questions about a suspected or confirmed rabies exposure to domestic animals call 651-201-6808. To find information on rabies in animals, and to view a map of positive cases in Minnesota, visit our rabies webpage.

If you have questions concerning rabies exposure in people, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414. 

Minnesota does not have a comprehensive statewide law requiring rabies vaccination in domestic animals. While we work to get legislation passed to protect animals with vaccinations, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health recommends all dogs, cats, ferrets, cattle, sheep, and horses be vaccinated against rabies virus. In the event an animal is exposed or potentially exposed, animals should receive a rabies vaccination booster within 72 hours of exposure.