Arkansas has seen an unusually high number of rabies cases this year with 100 reported so far, state health officials said last week.
"Last year we had 131 cases for the entire year, so we’re ahead of that pace," state Department of Health spokesman Ed Barham said.
The 100th case was a cat in Boone County that had been in a fight with an unidentified animal. The cat was reported as non-aggressive until a few hours before it died, which is unusual because many rabid animals become aggressive several days before dying, according to health officials.
"This case drives home the point that people need to have their family pets vaccinated, because of the contact and exposure this family faced," said Dr. Gary Wheeler, branch chief of infectious disease for the Department of Health.
The rabies cases reported in the state so far this year include 91 skunks, three bats, two cats, two dogs, one cow and one horse.
Barham said health officials do not have any data pointing to a cause for the rise in cases, such as a possible increase in the skunk population.
"It’s just possible that we’re seeing more people become aware and we’re making more diagnoses because of that," he said.
Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the brains and spinal cord. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats and foxes and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus may also be spread if spit from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds, or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.
A person who is exposed to an animal that may have rabies should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, seek medical attention immediately and contact a doctor and the local county health unit to report the incident. The animal should be captured, if possible, without risking further human exposure.
Arkansas state law requires that all cats and dogs receive a rabies vaccination, given by a licensed veterinarian, beginning at 4 months of age. A booster is also required one year after the initial vaccine. Over-the-counter rabies vaccinations available at feed stores may not be a reliable vaccination source and do not satisfy the requirements of the Arkansas Rabies Control Act of 2010.
Health officials issued the following recommendations to protect against 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.
—Encourage children to tell an adult immediately if any animal bites them.
—Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well.