Ninth case of rabies confirmed in county

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

May 1, 2007 - Everybody knows one good reason to stay away from skunks. Now there are nine more.

That's the number of confirmed cases of rabid skunks in Hopkins County this year alone, as many as have been recorded in the previous seven years combined.

Dr. James H. Wright, regional zoonosis veterinarian with the Texas Department of State Health Services office in Tyler, issued a notice Monday that there have been nine confirmed cases of skunks with rabies in the county so far this year.

Number 8 was recorded earlier this month when a homeowner near Sulphur Springs found her  two dogs had been fighting with a skunk the morning of April 12. She was unable to find the skunk but had her two canines vaccinated as a precaution.

Four days later, she found a dead skunk in the pen with her dogs. She put the skunk in a plastic bag and took it to a local veterinarian, where it tested positive for rabies.

"Since this incident occurred, another rabid skunk has been reported in Hopkins County," Dr. Wright stated in the news release. "That makes number nine in 2007."

Skunks are one of the most common carriers of rabies. Of the 14 confirmed cases in Hopkins County between 1998 and 2006, eight were skunks, two were bats, two were cats, one was a dog and one was an equine.

Because skunks are nocturnal animals, seeing one of the animals out and about during the daylight hours — especially one that shows no fear of humans or domestic animals — is a potential sign of rabies.

"However, rabid skunks are also active at night," Dr. Wright wrote. "They sometimes actually come into people’s yards and attack their pets. They have the ability to get through very small holes in fences or dog pens in order to gain entry. Therefore, day or night, one should investigate unusual barking or other actions of pets."

Rabies is a virus that affects all warm-blooded animals. The disease eventually kills the infected animal after attacking the brain, causing encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. It is generally transmitted through saliva, though ingestion of a diseased animal would also cause infection. 

People are normally infected with rabies through domestic pets which have contracted the virus from a wild animal, such as a skunk. The best protection against rabies is to vaccinate all pets over three months of age once per year, following up each year with a booster shot.

The number of confirmed cases this year underscores the importance of having family pets vaccinated for the virus, which is virtually untreatable in animals — once they've contracted rabies, euthanasia is the recommended course of action.

Anyone bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies must go through a painful series of injections to stop the disease from taking hold.

"Rabies vaccine not only protects the pet, but also the family," Dr. Wright wrote. "Invariably, if a dog, cat, or horse has rabies, two to six people have to take the rabies post-exposure rabies prevention shot series because of their contact with the domestic animal."

According to Dr. Wright, the appropriate post-exposure follow-up for a pet or livestock that has come into contact with a rabid animal depends upon its rabies vaccination status. Its owner should consult with a veterinarian about the proper course of action to take.

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