A skunk found within the city limits of Dierks was confirmed rabid by the Arkansas Department of Health last week, bringing the total number so far for 2010 to 12 for the state. Four of those were in Howard County, where the total for all of last year was five, according to Susan Weinstein, DVM, State Public Health Veterinarian, who says that people need to be sure that their dogs and cats have been vaccinated.
The Arkansas Department of Health wants to continue to remind citizens of the potential for rabies in skunks seen out during the day and without fear of people or dogs.
Dogs or cats exposed to rabid skunks are confined and quarantined to see if they are going to develop rabies. If they have a current rabies vaccination, the quarantine period is only 45 days. However, if they are unvaccinated or not current, they are strictly confined for six months.
If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.
If the animal can't be quarantined for the specified time, it must be euthanized, according to the state's rabies control laws.
"It is especially tragic to see a family pet put to death because its owner didn't understand the risk," Weinstein said. "Rabies is a very dangerous virus and is fatal. Especially this season, folks need to make sure their pets are protected."
If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician and county health unit immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further exposure.
All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. This not only protects the animal, but also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, as our pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than we are. Children especially should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets.
What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
* Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.
* Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals.
* Keep family pets indoors at night.
* Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter (The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.)
* Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them.
* Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays, and all other animals they do not know well.
Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your local Health Unit. Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is fatal. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats, and foxes. Cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock can also develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated.
In 2009, Arkansas had 47 rabies positive animals, including 36 skunks, nine bats, and two dogs. Four of these skunks were in Pike County, and neighboring counties of Howard, Hempstead and Clark had five, three, and four positive for a total of 12 more rabid skunks.
So far in 2010, the state has had 10 skunks test positive for rabies as well as one dog. The rabid skunks have also primarily been in southwest Arkansas including four in Howard, two in Montgomery, and one in both Nevada and Pike Counties.
The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.
The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly.
Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are often present. Skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house.
Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone. An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals -- especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.
For more information, call the your county health unit and ask for the Environmental Health Specialist, or Susan Weinstein, DVM, State Public Health Veterinarian, at 501-280-4136.