Testing has identified a rabid skunk in Fulton County, the first confirmed local case in a year when the state has seen an alarming increase in rabies cases in Arkansas.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), a citizen found a dead skunk in his backyard, near a fenced area where dogs are kept. The skunk tested positive for the rabies virus.
So far this year, ADH has identified 115 cases of rabies, 90 skunks, two dogs, one cat and 21 bats. That compares to 60 cases in all of last year.
In the Fulton County case, the skunk apparently did not come into contact with the dogs on the property. The dogs did not have current rabies shots, however, which Dr. Susan Weinstein, the state public health veterinarian, said is crucial to protecting pets and preventing the spread of rabies.
"Fences and pens cannot prevent a rabid skunk from coming into contact with family pets," Weinstein said. "The only sure way to protect your pets and your family is to have your pets vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian."
Under state law, pets are required to get a rabies shot from a veterinarian every three years.
ADH spokesperson Ed Barham said a confirmed case of rabies should put residents on alert.
"If one rabid animal is confirmed, there is sure to be others in the area. The confirmation is a red flag that there are likely other rabid animals out in the wild."
Besides up to date rabies shots for pets, the ADH recommends that family pets be kept indoors at night, that people do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, that children should be taught to stay away from animals they do not know well and to tell an adult immediately if any animal bites them.
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, exhibit staggering, convulsions and frothing at the mouth.
"If you see a live skunk in daylight hours, it is probably a sick animal," Barham said. "Skunks are nocturnal animals who do not like to be around people."
Barham suggests calling the sheriff's department for assistance if a suspected rabid animal is observed.
If a skunk or other animal is found dead on a property and the cause of death is not apparent, an ADH Environmental Health Inspector should be contacted. The inspector will have the dead animal tested for rabies at the public health lab, to help the state track the number of rabid animal cases in the state, and where the cases are occurring. The inspector will also look for signs that pets or livestock have come into contact with the possibly rabid animal to determine whether animals need to be quarantined.
The Environmental Health Inspector for Fulton and Sharp Counties can be reached at 870-895-3300.