TUCSON, Ariz. – Three recent reports involving foxes and a skunk, common carriers of rabies, is prompting the Arizona Game and Fish Department to ask the public to exercise caution around apparently ill wildlife and to seek medical attention promptly if bitten by one.
A clearly ill fox was found on the front porch of a home March 30 off Sweetwater Drive, and an apparently ill fox was observed March 28 in a pool area near homes in the Picture Rocks area. The fox off Sweetwater died, and the Picture Rocks fox was euthanized. Both were submitted for rabies testing.
A woman was bitten March 26 by a skunk in her garage in SaddleBrooke. She was treated for rabies at Oro Valley Hospital, but the skunk escaped.
“Avoid contact with and don’t approach wildlife that is behaving abnormally or appears to be ill. If you believe that you see a rabid animal, call us at 1-623-236-7201 or the Pima County Health Department at 520-724-7797 immediately,” said Regional Supervisor Raul Vega of Game and Fish in Tucson. “In addition, avoid touching any dead wildlife that you may find, and keep your pets away from them as well.”
Vega added that pets such as dogs and cats, as well as livestock like horses, should be regularly vaccinated for rabies. In addition, dogs should be on leashes when outdoors, and a veterinarian consulted if any domestic animals are injured by wildlife, he said. Unvaccinated animals exposed to wildlife with rabies must undergo a four month quarantine.
There have been nine confirmed cases in skunks, foxes, bats and bobcats in Pima County thus far this year, as well as seven in Cochise County and five in Santa Cruz County. There were a total of 137 cases among those species in the three counties last year, including an infected horse. Pinal County had one rabies case in 2016.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, causing encephalitis (swelling of the brain). It is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.
Rabies can be prevented in persons who have come into contact or have been bitten by wild animals through prompt administration of anti-rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.
In Arizona, the principal rabies hosts in Arizona are bats, skunks, and foxes. These animals carry their own distinct rabies virus variants or “strains.”
When rabies activity within these animal groups increases, rabies can “spill over” into other mammal species, such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, cats, dogs, horses, cows, etc. Rabid animals may appear disoriented or intoxicated, salivate heavily or appear thirsty.
Approximately 15 people are exposed to rabid animals in Arizona annually. People who are exposed must receive vaccine and anti-rabies serum treatment to prevent infection. Prevention information is available here.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has trust responsibility for managing more than 800 native wildlife species – the most of any inland state – for current and future generations of Arizona citizens.