The first case of rabies seen in an Arkansas dog this year was confirmed this month. The animal, a dog from Mississippi County, Arkansas, tested positive for the rabies virus after being exposed to a skunk in mid-June of 2017. All those who may have come into contact with the dog have been contacted for follow-up. Rabies is an extremely dangerous, lethal disease in the absence of vaccination, but effective preventive vaccination can be administered after a bite. So far in 2017, 23 rabid animals (13 skunks, 9 bats, and 1 dog) have tested positive for rabies in Arkansas.
Residents are reminded to keep pets and livestock up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Maps documenting where rabies is found in the state, which can help guide medical professionals about the need for rabies preventive shots after an animal bite, can be found on the ADH website at www.healthy.arkansas.gov.
“Rabid animals can pose a threat to pets and livestock,” said Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian at ADH. “Situations like this are a critical reminder to everyone to make sure their pets and livestock are current on their vaccinations.”
The rabies virus attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. The 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. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks and bats. Any skunk seen out during the day, or getting into a fenced yard or pen with a dog, is very likely rabid, and should be avoided and reported to local authorities. Cats, dogs, ferrets, and livestock can also develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated.
All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required by state law to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. One-year and three-year shots are available. This protects the animal, and acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, since pets are more likely to be directly exposed to a rabid animal. Any rabies vaccine given by an owner with an over-the-counter product cannot be counted as vaccinated, as there is no assurance it was stored or given properly. There is also usually no documentation of a date when the vaccine was given. 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, so you should avoid direct contact with all wild animals, especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs. If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if it is possible to do so safely, without damaging its head so that it can be tested. If an apparently healthy, domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined, and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.
Take the following steps to protect yourself from rabies:
• Be sure 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 the nearest 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 Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian, at (501) 280-4384.