ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Fourteen Washington University students were bitten by a bear cub visiting the campus as part of a petting zoo.
The question is, are those students at risk of getting rabies?
For several years during finals week Washington University has allowed a petting zoo to set up in the South 40 residential area. It's always billed as a stress reliever before finals begin. This year, the zoo, unbeknownst to the university, brought along a bear cub on a leash and let students handle it.
While some students were playing with the bear he nipped their hands. Some describe it as similar to what happens when you play with a puppy. Out of an abundance of caution those students have been told the bear must be tested for rabies. This means it has to be put down and that has some of the students, including some who were nipped, upset.
Washington University released this statement about the incident to the media, "For the past several years, as a way to help relieve stress during the time around final exams, a local petting zoo provided an on-campus interaction with domesticated farm animals. This year, without prior knowledge of the university, the petting zoo included in the experience a 2-month old bear cub. About 14 students have reported that the bear cub nipped them and the bites broke through their skin, including on the arms and faces of some of the students. Because the bear cub was born in the wild, State of Missouri and local health officials cannot rule out the possibility that it carries rabies. The only way to confirm is to test the bear cub following euthanasia.
This is an extremely unfortunate situation, for our students and the bear cub.
Our focus has been on ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our students. County and state health and agriculture officials have responsibility for determining the appropriate steps to take regarding testing the cub for rabies. Rabies is a very serious and life-threatening health risk. Based on guidance from county and state officials, and out of concern for the students, the owner of the petting zoo voluntarily surrendered the bear cub` for testing. Results of the test should be known within 48 hours. Until then, Washington University students who were bitten by the cub, with bites that broke the skin, should wait to take any further action. Rabies vaccinations only will be recommended if the cub tests positive.
The Washington University Student Health Services will keep students advised of the status."