The Arkansas Department of Health issued the following news release about the case:
Misinformation about the proper timing for vaccination has led to the loss of a family pet and more than 17 possible human exposures to rabies in Saline County. The Arkansas Department of Health has confirmed cases of rabies in both a family dog in Saline County and in a skunk living less than a mile away. This brings the total number of animals that have tested positive for rabies this year to 83, well above average.
The dog became ill around June 13, and progressively declined until it was euthanized and submitted for rabies testing. A number of people exposed to this dog will be undergoing a series of rabies vaccinations to prevent the development of the disease. The dog had killed a skunk approximately six weeks prior to getting sick, and had likely been bitten by the skunk at that time. The dog was not vaccinated against rabies because it was still a puppy and the owners mistakenly thought that it could not receive a rabies vaccine until it was six months old. Rabies vaccines generally are administered by veterinarians at 12 to 16 weeks of age for a dog or cat.
State law requires all dogs and cats to be vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian by 4 months of age. This not only protects the animal, but also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, as our pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than we are. The veterinarian also is the best person to give advice about timing of rabies vaccinations in pets. Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian, said, "It is sad to lose a pet, but having people exposed to rabies could potentially be fatal to humans."
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats and foxes. Cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock can also develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated. In 2011, Arkansas had 60 rabies positive animals, including 53 skunks, six bats and one cat. So far in 2012, we have had 83 rabies positive animals: 69 skunks, 11 bats, one bull, and now two dogs. The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.
The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly. Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are often present. Skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house. Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone. An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals - especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.
If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician and county health unit immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further exposure.
If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.
What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
- Be sure your 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 (The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.)
- Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them
- Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays, and all other animals they do not know well
For more information, call the local health unit in your county. Click here to find phone numbers for local health units across the state.