With the continued discovery of rabid animals around the Rim country, Gila County Health officials are warning the public to avoid contact with bats and other wild animals that may be carrying the virus.
Cindy Shafe, office manager of the Payson branch of the health department, said Gila County has the second highest number of rabies cases reported in the state.
"Within the last year, they've found eight rabid bats, 10 rabid foxes, one dog, one coyote and one bobcat for a total of 21," Shafe said. "We weren't supplied with the exact locations of these animals, but I do know that most of them were found in the Globe and Payson areas."
By comparison, Pima County, which ranks first in rabies cases, has reported 30 cases: four skunks, 25 bats and one badger.
In third place is Cochise County, which has had 13 reported cases: seven skunks and six bats.
Since last January, at least six humans have been exposed to rabies, Shafe said.
"It is important that Rim country residents not only be made aware of the current rabies situation, but also to educate themselves about the disease," she said. "I didn't even know until recently that rabies can be transferred by saliva. I thought you had to be bitten and your skin had to be broken. But that is not the case."
According to information released by the state-run Bureau of Epidemeology and Disease Control Services, 21 percent of all animals tested at the Arizona State laboratory for rabies in 2000 were determined to have rabies.
"That's a pretty high number," Shafe said.
The State Lab, which is on call around the clock to respond to public health crises, tests more than 2,000 animals a year for rabies, preventing many people from having to go through stressful rabies post-exposure treatment. Individuals who are exposed to a rabid animal must promptly receive rabies vaccines and anti-rabies serum to stop the disease. The rabies shots are expensive and require five health care visits.
The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system and is always fatal once symptoms occur. It is transmitted to people or pets through bites from infected animals or exposure to the rabid animal's saliva.
Bats are not aggressive animals and generally do not intentionally attack humans, even when rabid. Rabid bats are usually found on the ground or are seen flying erratically during the day. Since bats are migrating now, it is not unusual to see them roosting in places like carports and eaves. If you leave them alone, they usually will go away on their own.
Any bat, fox, skunk, bobcat or other wild animal behaving strangely should be avoided.
The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends the following precautions to protect you and your family from rabies:
1. Dogs and cats should be currently vaccinated against rabies.
2. Do not leave food out for pets or wild animals.
3. Keep people and pets away from wild animals.
4. If you see an animal acting strangely, call local animal control. If it is a bat on the ground, put a box or can over it without touching it and call local animal control.
Rabies: Protect yourself by protecting your pet
According to a press release from the Gila County Rabies/Animal Control Department, Arizona state law requires any dog four months of age or older be licensed in its county of residence after a rabies vaccination has been administered to the dog by a licensed veterinarian.
The rabies vaccination tag given to you by the vet is not a county license; valid county Licenses can be obtained only through the Gila County Health Department. Rabies vaccine purchased at feed stores or other outlets, and administered by dog owners is not recognized by the health department as a valid vaccination.
Although the health department encourages you to immunize your dogs against other common canine diseases (distemper, parvo, etc.), a rabies shot is the only vaccination required to obtain a license. State law also provides that any dog not displaying a current license may be picked up and impounded by Rabies Control officers, and will be considered a "stray" dog. As such, Rabies Control is only required to hold the dog for a minimum of 72 hours, after which, the dog can be either euthanized or adopted out to a new owner.
"Please be a responsible dog owner by complying with the licensing laws," said Cindy Shafe, office manager for the Gila County Health Department-Payson. "It is a very simple and inexpensive form of insurance for you and your pet.
"Also, respect your neighbors by controlling your dogs. There is a County leash-law in force for all of Northern Gila County. Dogs allowed to roam at large indiscriminately, and causing a nuisance, will be picked up, impounded, and cited by Rabies Control officers even if they are wearing a County license."
For more information about rabies and licenses, call Payson Rabies Control, 474-1210, or Globe Rabies Control, (520) 425-5882.