The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local News

June 27, 2013

Summer brings increased threat of rabies to area

PALESTINE — The temperature isn’t the only thing on the rise during the summer months.

State and local health officials report historically, the months of July, August and September also give rise to the cases of rabies-infected bats. The last reported case of rabies in Anderson County was an infected bat found in August 2009. No rabies cases have been reported to state officials since.

“We do see (rabies) quite a bit in this area, but we’re pretty lucky to have a low number of cases in Anderson County,” said Dr. Karen Stone, a Palestine veterinarian. “I like to think that’s because our residents are very good at keeping their pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date.”

Skunks are another of the area’s predominate rabies carriers, though the peak time of year for their infections is usually during the spring. Other carriers include raccoons, coyotes, foxes and opossums.

“Any mammal can contract rabies and most likely that’s going to happen through a bite from a bat or a skunk,” Dr. Stone said.

Fortunately, the disease doesn’t seem to be a big agricultural issue.

“We typically don’t see a lot of rabies cases in livestock, but we do have a number of carriers in our area so it can be an issue,” Anderson County AgriLife Extension Agent Truman Lamb said.

State and local health officials remind citizens to minimize the risks of coming into contact with the disease by not handling any wild animal themselves.

“It should always be the first thought that rabies is a possibility –  especially if the animal in question is acting erratically or abnormally,” Dr. Stone said. “Never handle a bat or skunk you find out during the daytime or any other animal that might be acting strangely, especially if they’re acting overly aggressive. That’s a pretty good sign that animal isn’t healthy.

“Call an animal control officer or another trained professional for help, and it’s always a good idea to have the animal tested, even if there’s only a suspicion it may have rabies.”

In the event a bat or other wild animal becomes trapped inside a home or other structure, residents are urged to call an animal control official or remove the animal while avoiding direct contact with it, such as scooping it into a container while wearing protective clothing.

Officials also recommend making sure the eaves of homes are covered adequately and windows are screened securely, to prevent any animal from entering a building.

Rabies is a preventable virus that infects the central nervous system, including the brain, of mammals and can cause death to those infected. Infestation occurs when a victim is bitten or scratched by an infected animal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, www.cdc.gov, states “the vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes.”

Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to many other illnesses, and could include fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort.

“As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water),” the CDC’s site states. “Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.”

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the first references to rabid animals in Texas appear in anecdotal accounts by cowboys who were attacked by skunks.

In 1979, Texas legislators established mandates to help control rabies outbreaks. Those mandates included requiring annual vaccination of all cats and dogs. In 2003, state law makers modified the requirement to allow for vaccinations on both an annual and three-year basis.

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