Pinal Animal Care and Control offers free rabies clinic in Mammoth; officials fear outbreak

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Skunks are known carriers of the rabies virus. (Photo courtesy

  It’s a horrific story. The stuff of nightmares.

  A crazed wild animal attacks first your dogs, then you. You grab the only weapon you can find, a machete, and start fighting for your life.

  The thing is – it’s not a story. Not a dream. But it was a nightmare.

  The incident happened this year on a ranch southeast of San Manuel. Pinal County Animal Control officers were called to the scene and what they discovered was chilling.

  A bobcat attacked several dogs on the ranch and then turned on a ranch hand who waded into the fray swinging a machete. Animal Control took samples from the dead bobcat and sent them to the state laboratory to check for rabies. The test came back positive.

  Luckily, the ranch dogs had all been vaccinated against rabies. The ones who had come into contact with the rabid bobcat were administered a booster shot and were deemed safe from rabies.

  The ranch hand was not so lucky.

  He had been exposed to blood and other body fluids infected with the rabies virus and had to undergo treatment for rabies.

  “Rabies is 100 percent fatal,” explained Graham Briggs. Briggs serves as an epidemiologist at the Pinal County Public Health Department. “We take rabies very seriously.”

  Just last month, Briggs said, a fox tested positive for rabies in Winkelman. A homeowner heard a weird noise in her backyard and discovered a fox. The homeowner brought her dog inside for the night. In the morning she found that the fox had died and called Animal Control. The fox tested positive for rabies. Because of the dog’s proximity to the fox and even though the dog hadn’t been bitten, the dog was considered to have been exposed. The dog hadn’t been vaccinated, Briggs said, and was euthanized.

  “I hate it,” Briggs said, about having to euthanize pets. “It’s sad and frustrating.”

  Especially when it’s completely preventable simply by vaccinating pets against rabies.

  The rabies vaccine is recommended for dogs and cats. For dogs, it’s required. But Briggs said he’s seen issues with cats. He said a woman reported that her cat had brought a dead bat into the house and left it in a basket of the owner’s clean clothes. When the owner discovered the “gift,” she called Animal Control. The bat tested positive for rabies. Because the cat wasn’t vaccinated, it was euthanized.

  Briggs explained that epidemiologists see rabies routinely in certain animals, namely bats, foxes and skunks. What concerns them is that they are seeing rabies spill over into other animals, from foxes to coyotes to bobcats. A few years ago, they even had a case of rabies in a coatimundi. The coatimundi was living under the front porch of a home in Oracle. The homeowners had been feeding the animal, a report of which got back to officials at Arizona Fish and Game. They captured the animal and it later tested positive for rabies.

  “Any mammal is susceptible to rabies,” Briggs said.

  Pinal County has even seen a rabies case in a cow. Briggs said a farm owned by a conglomerate brought in its company veterinarian from California to treat a cow that was ill. The vet was convinced that the excessive salivation was caused by a blockage in the animal’s digestive tract and had put his arm down the animal’s throat to find the blockage. Briggs said the vet ordered a rabies test as a matter of routine and went back to California. When the animal tested positive for rabies, Briggs said, the health department had to call him and he had to seek treatment because he had been exposed.

  Rabies is a virus that is transmitted by saliva. Rabid animals bite other animals infecting them. The virus then travels to the central nervous system, lodging in the brain where it multiplies, causing encephalitis, confusion and an inability to swallow which leads to excessive salivation. The virus then heads to the salivary glands where it continues the cycle. There is no cure for animals. Humans who are exposed are given a shot of amino globulin immediately after exposure followed by the first dose of vaccine. Vaccine is then administered on days three, seven and 14 after the exposure. Painful, but the alternative is so much worse.

  County health departments send educators into the elementary schools, especially in rural locations, to teach children about the dangers of rabies. Briggs said it’s a recurring nightmare to think that a child could pick up a dead bat and take it to school to show his friends, not knowing that they are all potentially being exposed to rabies.

  “Eight or nine times out of 10, the domestic animals exposed (to rabies) are dogs,” Briggs said, a number that was confirmed by Clancy Hill, a communicable diseases investigator for the Pinal County Health Department. Every year, the department sees reports of dogs getting into fights with skunks, exposing them to rabies.

  Pinal County Animal Care and Control as well as the Pinal County Public Health Department want to prevent rabies from spreading.  Animal Care and Control will be holding a free rabies vaccination clinic on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  The clinic will take place at the Pinal County Public Health Clinic in Mammoth, 110 Main St.

  Shots will be offered, no questions asked. Dogs must be leashed and cats must be in carriers.

  Protect your pets and get them vaccinated.

Facts about Rabies

  Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord of animals and humans.  It is caused by a virus present in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to humans through contact with the live virus. Rabies is fatal to humans once symptoms appear.

   While human exposures to rabid animals are rare, family pets are more often exposed to wild animals, including wild animals that are rabid.  Vaccination against rabies is available through your veterinarian or Pinal County Animal Care and Control.  This will prevent them from getting rabies if exposed to a rabid animal.  Unfortunately, household pets that are not vaccinated against rabies need to be put to sleep after having an exposure to a wild animal.

   Rabies is found mainly in wild animals such as bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes.  Cats, dogs, and livestock can also become infected with rabies if they are bitten by rabid wild animals and they have not been vaccinated.  Rodents such as rats, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs and squirrels are not likely to be infected with rabies.  Wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior should be reported to local animal control officials.  The best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid touching, handling, or adopting wild or stray animals.

  The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal’s behavior.  Animals may act more aggressive or more tame than usual.  Animals usually active at night such as skunks, foxes, and bats may be out during the day.  Rabid animals may appear agitated and excited or paralyzed and frightened.  Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies.  That is why contact with wild animals should always be avoided.

Animal Care and Control recommends the following precautions

• Keep people and pets away from wild animals. Do not pick up, touch, or feed wild or unfamiliar animals, especially sick or wounded ones. If someone has been bitten or scratched, or has had contact with the animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials.

• Do not “rescue” seemingly abandoned young wild animals. Usually, the mother will return. If the mother is dead or has not returned in many hours, call the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

• Vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies. Pets should be kept in a fenced yard.

* Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.

• Do not disturb roosting bats. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department. Place a box over the bat to contain it. Be careful not to damage the bat in any way since it must be intact for rabies testing.

Jennifer Carnes (11 Posts)

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