Officials at the Fulton County Health Department are warning residents to be on the lookout for rabid animals after three area skunks tested positive for rabies in recent weeks.
"This is highly unusual for this time of year," said James Tanner, an environmental health specialist with the Arkansas Health Department. "People need to be on alert."
Tanner said two of the rabid skunks were found by concerned homeowners in rural Fulton County.
The skunks were found far enough away from each other that they were not connected, he said.
"The skunks were messing with people's pets and they killed them," Tanner said. "The home owners brought the skunks' heads in for analysis and it was determined that they had rabies."
Tanner said the third skunk was the offspring of one of the skunks killed.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, skunks are the most common carriers of rabies among all animals.
To catch rabies from a skunk an animal or person has to come into contact with the animal's saliva, Tanner said.
"You mess with a skunk and they'll bite you," Tanner said. "And what's scary about skunks is they can carry the disease and not show any outward signs."
Animals infected by the deadly disease become unusually aggressive or tame, stagger while walking, act as if they're choking, froth at the mouth and become paralyzed.
Most animals infected by the disease die within a week of contracting it.
Tanner, who has worked at the Arkansas Department of Health for 30 years, said there hasn't been a human fatality related to the rabies virus during his tenure at the department.
"Boy, I'm very glad about that," Tanner said.
He said the disease is very contagious and deadly to humans if it goes undetected even for a short period of time.
Tanner said the best way to prevent rabies is to have all animals and pets vaccinated for the disease.
Another way to prevent the spread of the disease is to keep your eyes open.
"If you see an animal that's acting aggressive or erratic, call the Health Department," Tanner said.
Anyone who has information about a rabies infected animal can contact the Fulton County Health Department at 870-895-3300 or the Sharp County Health Department at 870-994-7364.