GFD Encourages Rabies Precautions
After a record year of animal rabies and with warmer weather inviting more outdoor recreation opportunities, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Game and Fish Department are encouraging Arizonans to take precautions to protect themselves and their pets from rabies exposure.
Last year, there were 143 cases of animal rabies, compared to 129 in 2001. Rabies infection was confirmed in 56 bats, 44 skunks, 33 foxes, three bobcats, three llamas, two coyotes, one dog and one javelina.
So far in 2003, three foxes and one skunk from Cochise County and a fox from Maricopa County have tested positive for rabies. There have been two human exposures attributed to the rabid fox in Maricopa County.
“People can be exposed to rabies when they attempt to approach, assist, feed or handle wild mammals,” says Craig Levy, Department of Health Services biologist. “And, many pets that are off-leash are exposed to rabies when chasing wild mammals. Keep your pets vaccinated and under control at all times. This serves to protect them and you.”
Though bats are the wildlife group most people associate with the virus, any mammal - particularly foxes and skunks - are potential carriers of this disease.
A javelina from the Globe area that tested positive for rabies in December is also a timely reminder for hunters to take precautions when handling game. “The hunting season for javelina started this month and one hunt or another will be open until early March,” says Randy Babb, an Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman. “Hunters should always wear rubber or latex gloves when cleaning their animals to protect themselves from disease.”
Babb urges all outdoor enthusiasts to avoid contact with wildlife acting in an aggressive or abnormal manner, and to refrain from handling wildlife found dead in the field. “If you see a wild animal that is sick or acting strangely, report it immediately to Game and Fish Department officials, or to your local animal control office,” he says. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is always fatal once symptoms appear. The virus can be transmitted to people or animals through bites from infected animals or exposure to infected saliva through open wounds or mucous membranes.
Individuals who are exposed to a rabid animal must promptly receive rabies vaccines and anti-rabies serum to prevent the disease.
Health Services and Game and Fish Department officials recommend the following to protect you and your pets from rabies:
When enjoying outdoor activities, such as hiking or camping, avoid wild mammals, especially those that are behaving abnormally. Such behavior from the animal might include: showing no fear; unusual vocalizing; staggering and/or acting sickly; and nocturnal mammals that are active during the daytime.
Do not pick up, touch or feed wild or unfamiliar mammals. If someone has been bitten or scratched, or has had contact with the animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials and consult a physician as soon as possible.
Campers should keep pets under control and maintain a clean camp to discourage visits from unwanted wildlife. Do not leave uneaten food out when you retire for the evening.
Always contain and place trash in a location inaccessible to wildlife. Pet food should not be left out overnight.
Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.
Vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies. Pet owners should check the vaccination records of any previously vaccinated animals to ensure that the animals are current in their vaccinations.
Do not disturb roosting bats. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. If the bat is found in an urban area, report the bat and its location to your local animal control office or health department.
For more information about rabies, call your local health department, the ADHS Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Disease Section at (602) 230-5932 or the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (602) 942-3000.