TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Officials in Cochise County are reminding residents of the importance of vaccinating their pets against rabies, to help prevent the spread of the disease.
According to a Cochise County news release, so far in June the county has seen 14 cases of rabies and while most of the cases are in wildlife like skunks and foxes, in February a domestic cat tested positive. It was determined later that the cat had been infected by a rabid fox, the last time a cat tested positive was in 2016.
“It is important to note that rabies is preventable, and it is strongly recommended for domestic animals, especially cats, to be vaccinated. Cats in particular are more likely than any other pet to roam and hunt, and therefore be exposed to wildlife,” said Cochise Health & Services Director Carrie Langley, in the same release.
The rabies virus is transmitted in the saliva of a rabid animal via a bite and is almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms start. In Arizona the primary carriers of rabies are bats, skunks and foxes and can be transmitted from infected animals to humans.
Cases of rabies in Cochise County have been on the decline since 2016, when there were 43 cases; a rise in cases can occur when host animals see a natural population increase and can 'spill over' to non-typical carriers like bobcats and coyotes. Arizona as a state has also seen a decrease in rabies cases, with only 69 reported so far in 2019, as compared to 96 during the same time in 2018.
Reported cases in neighboring counties for 2019 are Santa Cruz with 14 and Pima with 18.
The number is low in Santa Cruz due to a 2015 rabies quarantine for one year, after the county experienced an increase in number of cases, a policy that successfully increased the vaccination rate in pets and domestic livestock.
Health officials in Cochise County are not anticipating the need to establish a quarantine, though they are working to increase opportunities for vaccinations for pets and are educating pet owners on other prevention strategies.
Residents are advised to be observant of animals that show unusual behavior like lethargy, difficulty walking, excessive salivation and aggression, and report where they have seen these animals to locl animal control or the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.
“Awareness of rabies in Cochise County is very important,” added Langley. “Keep pets inside, or on a leash when outdoors, don’t leave pet food outside, and do not feed stray animals. While rabies is a concerning infectious disease, it’s important to remember that it is preventable through vaccinations.”
Should a pet or pet owner be bitten by an animal, wash the area with soap and water (put on gloves when cleaning pet wounds), and then seek immediate medical treatment. Local authorities should then be notified: Cochise County Sheriff’s Department at (520) 432-9500 and Cochise Health & Social Services at 800-432-7271.
For additional information about rabies in Arizona, visit the Arizona Department of Health Services website at www.azdhs.gov/rabies