TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - With temperatures on the rise everyone - people and pets are moving outside to enjoy the Spring weather, this also means potential exposure to rabies is increasing.
Officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department are reminding the public to protect both themselves and their pets by keeping a safe distance from wildlife, especially from animals that exhibit abnormal behavior like those who are overly aggressive and/or seem to lack a fear of humans.
“The weather is warming up nicely and people are outside,” said Anne Justice-Allen, AZGFD wildlife veterinarian, in a recent news release. “At this time of year, we often see an uptick in the number of wildlife submitted for rabies testing as a result of contact with people or their pets.”
AZGFD is also reminding the public that rabies is often a preventable disease and is often transmitted via the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, causing encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.
Dogs and cats, as well as livestock like horses should be vaccinated regularly against rabies; dogs should also be on leashes when outside and a veterinarian consulted if any domestic animals are injured by wildlife.
Animals that are not vaccinated against rabies and are exposed to wildlife that is must undergo a four-month quarantine, while vaccinated animals only need to be quarantined for 45 days.
People who have been bitten or have come in contact with a rabid animal can prevent the rabies virus by prompt administration of anti-rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.
“In Arizona, the principal rabies hosts are bats, skunks and foxes,” Justice-Allen said. “These animals carry their own distinct strains of the rabies virus. When rabies activity within these animal groups increases, rabies can impact other mammals, such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, cats, dogs, horses or cows.”
Animals that are infected with rabies often may appear disoriented or intoxicated, salivate heavily or even appear thirsty.
The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends the following precautions to avoid exposure to rabies:
- Keep people and pets away from wild animals.
- Never leave pet food in the yard because it will attract wild animals.
- Do not pick up, touch, or feed wild or unfamiliar animals, especially sick or wounded ones.
- Been bitten or scratched, or had contact with an animal, wash the wound or area well with soap and water, and report it immediately to animal control or health officials.
- Do not "rescue" abandoned young wild animals. Leave wildlife alone.
- Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper.
- Wear impermeable gloves when skinning carcasses.
- Do not disturb roosting bats.
- Those who may find a bat on the ground, don't touch it. Place a box over the bat to contain it. Try to preserve the bat so it is intact for testing at a laboratory. Report the bat and its location to animal control or health officials.
- Report all animal bites to animal control or health officials.
Annually 15 people in Arizona are exposed to rabid animals and those who are must receive vaccine and the anti-rabies serum treatment to prevent infection.