Rabies Threat On The Rise

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Rebecca Jones of Christopher Creek must endure two more painful shots in her arm to make sure she doesn't get sick. The eight-year-old was bitten by a bat while she was playing near Christopher Creek earlier this month. The bat was later found to be carrying the rabies virus.


Rebecca is not alone. Four other people around the state were exposed to the rabies virus after handling rabid bats in two separate incidents.


Three school children in Gila County were exposed after finding a rabid bat on school grounds; the other incident involved a school teacher from Pima County.


"People and pets can be exposed to rabies when they attempt to assist, feed or handle wild animals," said Dr. Mira Leslie, Public Health Veterinarian with the state health department. "Any time a person or pet has contact with a wild animal, it should be considered potentially rabid and reported to local animal control or health officials for testing."


Once exposed to rabies, people such as Rebecca must promptly receive rabies vaccines and anti-rabies serum to stop the disease.


"(Rebecca) is doing OK," her mother, Lois, said. "The biggest problem is that when she gets the shot, her arm is really sore for quite a while after.


"Also, the shots are really expensive. She has two more shots coming --one this Thursday, and her last one June 1. Then, she's through with this."


Local Rabies Control Officer Ty Goodman cautions parents to educate their children about the dangers of handling wild animals --whether they're dead or alive --especially bats, foxes and skunks.


"With this bat, since it was active during the day, luckily the parents knew something was wrong," Goodman said after Rebecca's incident.


Contrary to the myth, bats are not typically aggressive animals, and generally don't attack humans. Rabid bats are usually found on the ground, or flying erratically during the day. While there is no need to worry about bats that are flying at night, at dusk or at dawn, the health department warns that people should avoid them when they are on the ground, flying during the day or appear to be sick or injured.


Animal control officials ask anyone who spots a sick or dead animal, or an animal acting strangely, to report it to rabies control at 474-1210. Anyone who is bitten by an animal, or comes in contact with a wild animal's saliva, should immediately wash the exposed site with soap and water, and report the bite as soon as possible to rabies control.

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