As we continue through the nearing end of summer, pet and livestock owners are reminded to get their animals vaccinated against rabies to help keep them safe from wildlife attacks. Rabies is a fatal, but preventable disease often transmitted through scratches, abrasions, or open wounds that are exposed to a rabid animal’s saliva.
Since January 1, of this year, Cochise County has seen 10 positive rabies tests, with the most recent case in a bat. Although most rabies cases are found among wildlife, this infectious disease can be transmitted to both animals and humans.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), in Arizona, the principal rabies hosts are bats, skunks, and foxes. When rabies activity within these animal groups increases, rabies can "spill over" into other animals, such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, cats, dogs, horses, cows, etc. In animals, the virus is almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms start.
In Arizona, bats present the most common source of rabies exposure to humans because rabid bats often fall to the ground where they are easily accessible to people and pets. Other rabies exposures occur when people try to approach or feed wild animals, or in some cases, are attacked by rabid animals such as foxes, bobcats, and skunks.
Here’s what you must KNOW and DO to help prevent the spread of rabies:
- Get your pets vaccinated. To reduce transmission and contraction of the disease, rabies vaccinations offer protection to pets and livestock from infected animals.
- Don’t leave food or water outside. Steer clear from leaving any pet food or water outside near your home. Food and water can attract wildlife to your yard and put your pets at risk.
- Be observant of unusual animal activity. When outside, be on the lookout for animals showing unusual behavior such as disorientation, excessive salivation, and aggression.
- Inform local authorities. If you encounter a wild animal acting unusually strange, stay away and immediately contact the Sheriff’s Office or animal control.
- Seek immediate medical attention. Should you or your pets be bitten by an animal, wash the area with soap and water (put on gloves when cleaning pet wounds), then seek immediate medical treatment. People who are exposed may develop flu-like symptoms along with anxiety, confusion, and aggression in as little as a few days, and must receive a vaccine and anti-rabies serum treatment to prevent infection.
Local authorities should always be notified if you experience an encounter with a rabid animal. You may contact the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department at (520) 432-9500 and Cochise Health & Social Services at 800-432-7271.
Please take all animal bites seriously and seek immediate medical attention. Remember that rabies is preventable if you use caution and remain safe.
For more information on rabies in Arizona, visit the ADHS website at https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/rabies/.