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A dog kept as a house pet in the north died of rabies this week despite having been vaccinated against it, an incident that could signal a turning point in the spread of the disease.

The 6-year-old boxer on Moshav Kfar Baruch, which died Tuesday, was the first dog in Israel known to die of rabies despite having received the inoculation. The dog had been receiving regular vaccinations for the past five years.

Roni Ozeri, deputy director of the veterinary services unit of the Agriculture Ministry, said the case was a matter of concern.

"It is a mystery," he said. "We are in the middle of the investigation."

The incident was the 10th recorded rabies case in the country since January - a number that in the years preceding 2009 was about average for an entire year.

The estimated number of rabies cases jumped from an average range of 9-12 cases in recent years to 58 last year.

All the known infections this year have been in the eastern Galilee or Golan Heights.

In an effort to stave off further rabies infections, veterinary authorities have culled several unvaccinated house pets in the north. Six of this year's rabies cases and 32 of last year's cases involved rabid dogs, many of which have been house pets rather than strays.

Dog owners' failure to vaccinate their pets demonstrates an "outrageous lack of responsibility," said Safed municipal veterinarian Roi Davidson.

Safed has had three recorded rabies cases this year, with the most recent case discovered this week. In two of those cases, the rabid dogs were family pets whose owners did not vaccinate them.

Calling for a nationwide publicity campaign, Davidson asked, "Are they waiting for a human fatality?"

"Maybe they'll wake up only when rabies reaches Tel Aviv," he said.

The last time the disease spread to human beings in the country and had fatal consequences was in 2002, when an Israeli woman died of rabies. Three Israelis died of the disease in 1997.

Rabies is fatal in animals and humans unless they are treated before symptoms appear. The disease is caused by a virus and spread by saliva, generally through an animal bite. It can infect any mammal.