Douglas County health officials provide encouraging update on unusual public health actions

OMAHA — The latest public health emergency in Nebraska’s largest county received an encouraging status update at Wednesday’s meeting of the Douglas County Board of Health.

One of these cases involves a raccoon rabies variant that has never been seen before in Nebraska.

Another case involved an active case of tuberculosis at a temporary childcare center that potentially exposed approximately 550 people, mostly children.

(Getty Images)

Both sparked unusual mobilizations.

County Health Department Director Lindsay Huse told the committee that all indications are that the rabies variant found in a stray kitten of unknown history has not yet spread locally.

She said of the hundreds of animals and roadkill specimens observed so far, none had come back positive.

“That’s good news — we want to keep it that way,” Huss said.

Just as the response was winding down, she said, “we have another major public health emergency… without much of a break.”

The latest TB investigation, announced Nov. 9, began after an active case was linked to Westview YMCA Childwatch in Northwest Omaha. The center provides short-term care for children while their parents or guardians exercise.

Huse said the county typically investigates 15 to 20 TB cases each year. If left untreated, TB can be fatal.

“What’s unique about this particular instance is its scope,” she said.

The tracking effort identified more than 550 possible exposure scenarios. Testing began soon, as did preventive treatment for children under 5 years old.

Depending on the length of possible exposure, follow-up testing may be necessary. Hus said there have been no active cases of the virus so far.

“I feel good that this probably won’t lead to an outbreak,” Huss said.

She added, “There comes a point, and it’s going to take a little while, a couple of weeks, before I can say for sure, ‘We’re good.'”

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Justin Frederick, deputy county health director, said 272 children contacted by the county were tested at Children’s Hospital of Nebraska over the weekend.

Preschool children are at higher risk of rapidly developing active TB disease after infection. Young children who may have been recently exposed to the virus and require follow-up testing are also being treated to prevent infection and progression of the disease.

More testing is being done at clinics at YMCA sites this week, with about 150 people registered.

Others at risk choose to see their family doctor, Frederick said in an interview.SecondThe exposure likely occurred between late May and October at Childwatch near 156th and Ada Streets.

“At this point, I’m very pleased with the response,” Frederick said.

He said it was important to say there were “no real concerns” about exposure to the general public.

TB bacteria can spread through the air when an infected person coughs, talks or sings.Testing is only recommended for those with: Have had one or more close contacts with an infectious patient.

Health officials declined to identify the original patient. They said they are helping the person quarantine and the person is receiving medication until the test results come back negative.

Hoos declared a formal public emergency on Monday, opening the door to additional resources.


The county and its partners launched a multi-pronged response in October that included trapping raccoons with bait so they could be inspected, vaccinated and released.

Trapped raccoon. As part of the operation, a kitten found in Douglas County with a variant of raccoon rabies never seen in Nebraska was vaccinated and released. (Courtesy Douglas County Health Department)

“They vaccinated 753 raccoons, 41 skunks, four cats and one fox,” Huss told the Board of Health. “So it was a very successful effort.”

Other phases include testing road kills and dead animals, which could last until February, Huss said. The county also has placed approximately 18,000 packets of oral rabies vaccine.

The concern is heightened because raccoons are so common in Nebraska and often come into contact with people’s pets. The raccoon rabies strain involved has never been found west of the Appalachian Mountains before, Huss said.

The six people who handled the kitten and four from the veterinary office received appropriate treatment.

Health and animal agencies have had no luck finding the animal’s “backstory,” Frederick said, adding that the “hypothesis” is that the kitten or its mother was somehow brought here from the East Coast.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s not established in Douglas County,” Huss said of the variant.

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