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Rabid cat prompts workers’ compensation claim

A 1998 Massachusetts study found that the average cost for the complete series of rabies treatment was $2,376. Another state indicated the cost can now exceed $7,000. Those significant figures were relevant to a recent workers’ compensation claim in a southern state, filed by a former veterinarian assistant.

The woman was working as a vet assistant on May 2, 2011 when she was asked to hold down a cat so that blood could be drawn. She did so, though she was reported to have open wounds and scratches on her arms that were unrelated to the cat. Subsequently, the cat was diagnosed with rabies, and the worker underwent a two-week series of rabies treatment that was initiated two days later. The treatment was based on the fact that she was exposed to the saliva of the cat during the blood drawing procedure. As a Massachusetts worker facing a similar predicament might do, she filed a workers’ compensation claim to cover her expenses related to the treatment.

A veterinarian in the clinic where the woman worked submitted a letter on her behalf. The doctor stated the worker was exposed to the cat’s saliva and thus could face the possibility of contracting rabies. Essentially, if the cat licked its wounds and the worker’s open wound came in contact with the saliva, the worker would be at risk for rabies. The doctor offered that she had confirmed with the local Virginia hospital that the worker needed post-exposure rabies treatment.

Nevertheless, a deputy commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission denied the claim. It was held the mere possibility of exposure was insufficient to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. In particular, the case originally turned on the fact that the cat apparently neither bit nor licked the worker. The state’s Department of Health indicated that wet saliva would have had to enter an individual’s central nervous system through an open wound or otherwise come in contact with the person’s mucous membrane.

On June 18, however, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission chairman, as well as the commissioner and chief deputy commissioner, issued an opinion letter reversing the prior ruling and awarding workers’ compensation benefits. It relied on a previous state appellate court ruling that held exposure to a cat’s saliva through scratches was a compensable injury. Accordingly, the veterinarian assistant’s claim was validated, entitling her to benefits resulting from exposure to the rabid cat.

Source: The Washington Times, “Vet worker wins claim for rabies treatment,” David Sherfinski, June 18, 2012