Little Rock – The second skunk from Yell County within the last 30 days has been confirmed rabid by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). The skunk charged a resident of Briggsville who was riding an ATV and began following him. The first skunk was discovered in early December in a dog pen attacking dogs. In both cases, several dogs were potentially exposed, and none was current on its rabies vaccinations. It is unclear whether or not other dogs, cats, horses or cattle may have also been exposed prior to the skunks being shot.
Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian for the ADH, said, “It is fortunate that no people were exposed to rabies from these skunks, but it is sad that so often citizens put off taking their pets to the veterinarian for rabies vaccinations. These pets will have to undergo a six month quarantine or isolation for rabies to make certain they are not going to come down with rabies.”
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 pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than are humans. Children especially should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets.
In 2011, Arkansas had 60 rabies positive animals, including 53 skunks, six bats, and one cat. Twenty-seven of the skunks were submitted from Sebastian County alone. The cases in Yell County are the first positive rabies in 2012.
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. 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. 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.
Anyone who thinks they have become exposed to an animal with rabies should wash any wounds thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact a 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.
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 county 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.
For more information, call the Yell County Health Unit at 479-229-3509 or Dr. Susan Weinstein, state public health veterinarian, at 501-280-4136.