BISBEE — Three more skunks have tested positive for rabies in Cochise County, bringing the total number of rabid animals found since January to 12.
The skunks were found in Sunsites, Benson and south of Sierra Vista.
According to data provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), eight skunks, three foxes and one cat have been found to harbor the rabies virus in the county do far this year. Statewide, there are 53 confirmed cases of rabies.
While bats are the most common source of rabies statewide, skunks and foxes are the predominant carriers in Cochise County, state data shows. Last year, 15 skunks and 12 foxes tested positive, while only six bats were found with rabies.
Cochise County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carol Capas said, “There are two ways in which rabies can present. Either the skunk will become aggressive, called the ‘furious’ form of rabies, or it’ll display a complete lack of fear of humans or other animals, called the ‘dumb’ form. Furious rabies, where a skunk grows aggressive and foams at the mouth, is the most recognized form of the disease and the most likely to lead to a disease–spreading bite.”
If a wandering skunk seems totally fearless and disoriented, it could have the dumb form. Healthy skunks will typically run away from people or pets, she continued.
The county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working together to increase rabies surveillance with the added submissions of animal victims on roadways, stated Capas.
In Arizona, the principal rabies hosts are bats, skunks and foxes, which can carry species-specific strains of the virus, ADHS explains.
The problem with bats is they fall to the ground and become accessible to pets and people. ADHS notes, “Exposure to rabid bats usually occurs when pets and people pick up or handle a sick or dead bat.”
Leave foundering bats and carcasses alone and report them to the authorities, ADHS advises.
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.
“Most rabies exposures can be avoided by simply leaving bats and other wild animals alone,” ADHS states. “If a wild animal does not run away when you approach it, it may be sick or injured. Do not try to help it. If an animal is acting strangely, stay away from it.”
Rabies is a preventable viral disease and pet owners should make sure to keep dogs and cats up to date on vaccinations. While local ordinances require owners to have dogs vaccinated, it is also essential to vaccinate cats, livestock and other pets, Capas said.