More than 100 cases of rabies were reported in Arkansas as of June 24, a number almost double the normal level that state health and animal science experts attributed to a greater awareness of rabies symptoms in infected animals.
“It has been increasing,” said Tom Troxel, associate head of animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Last year, there was a total of 152 cases; in 2012, there were 131 cases; and 60 cases in 2011. The reason of the outbreak is unknown, he said.
“It is already double” the usual number of cases, Arkansas Public Health Veterinarian, Susan Weinstein, said. “Skunks and bats are the reservoir” for the rabies virus.
Dr. James Shearer, a Paris veterinarian, said rabies exists in Logan County, primarily in the skunk population.
“That’s why we vaccinated pets,” he said. “Pets are our buffer against the reservoir. Everyone should vaccinate their pets. For one, it’s the law. It’s also good sense. It’s for you, not for the dog.”
There have been no reported cases of rabies this year in Logan County. But that hasn’t always been the case.
“One year, we were the hot spot,” Shearer said. “That year, two people got rabies and they were on shots.”
Of the 103 cases, 86 are confirmed in skunks, Troxel said. Pulaski and Lonoke counties have the most cases - 26 for Pulaski and 13 for Lonoke. Widespread publicity about rabies cases in the two counties may be the reason of the high number of reported cases. People are more aware and submit more suspicious animals, Weinstein said.
“The peak time for rabies cases is March and April, with a smaller rise again in late summer and early fall,” she said.
Even though Weinstein doesn’t expect to see another 100 cases during the rest of this year, this number is still very high.
If the number continues, surely it will be a record breaking, Troxel said.
Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. It is considered one of the most infectious diseases and is fatal for both animals and people, Weinstein said.
To prevent rabies, make sure pets are vaccinated by licensed veterinarian and don’t rely on over-the-counter rabies medication, Troxel added. There has been one case of rabid dog and two cases of rabid cats this year.
Stay away from wildlife, especially those whose behavior is different from normal. Skunks and bats are nocturnal animals, so if they are out during the day, it may be a sign that they are rabid, he said. Be sure pets and children also stay away from bats and skunks during the day.
Possible exposure to rabid animals needs to be taken seriously, Weinstein said. People tend to ignore reporting bat bites, thinking it’s not dangerous, she added. There are series of injections that can be done to prevent rabies. Once the symptoms appear, the disease can’t be treated, she said.
If you see a suspicious skunk, bat, or other wildlife, report to an animal control officer.
To learn more about rabies, visit the Arkansas Department of Health’s website www.healthy.arkansas.gov.