Five days after he was attacked by a rabid bobcat, and five days after he started the treatment for human exposure to rabies, 80-year-old Tom Garner said he feels healthy.
"I'm a little bit wilted from all the medicine," Garner admitted Thursday, "but I'm doing pretty darned good. When the rabies control guy came over the other day, he said, 'You're acting like nothing happened to you. A lot of people have to go to counseling.' I can see how some young person might have to do that, but I just look at this as one thing in life that came along. I lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl days, and four years overseas during World War II. I've seen a lot of trauma, and this isn't so bad. It'll take a lot more than this to get me down."
Tuesday, when Garner received official notice that the bobcat was rabid, he didn't blink an eye.
"Heck, I already knew it was rabid because of the way it was so ferocious," he said. "So when they told me, it didn't make much difference."
On the morning of Sept. 7, Garner was about 75 feet from his house when the 40- to 50-pound bobcat jumped on his back and stayed there, biting and scratching, until Garner managed to shake him loose.
Garner hasn't taken a walk in his neighborhood since the attack but not out of fear.
"With all of these shots and everything, I got behind in my washing and all the things I need to do around the house," Garner said. "I'll be back out there walking this weekend. I'm not nervous, but I will be a little more alert. If it happens again, maybe I can dodge him."
Rabies in Rim country
Although a record 128 rabid animals were discovered statewide during 2001, and 91 had been found across Arizona in 2002 as of early August, Northern Gila County has seen only two cases this year, including Garner's bobcat.
In March, a Rye family lost two pets when the fox that attacked them was determined to be rabid. The pets, a Queensland mix dog and a 10-pound pig, had to be euthanized, said Gila County Animal Control Officer Ty Goodman. Neither of the pets had been vaccinated against the rabies virus.
In 2001, the north half of the county saw a total of eight or nine cases of positive rabies, and in 2000 there were about 15.
"They say that this is the worst year ever around Arizona," Goodman said, "but we're doing better than we did the last two previous years which is surprising, considering the drought conditions. We were expecting a lot more. But, of course, the year isn't over yet, either. We're just keeping our fingers crossed."
Still, northern Gila County's grand 2002 total of two infected-animal cases is a comforting figure, not only in comparison to the state's numbers, but the nation's as well.
In 2000, the most recent year that national studies were conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of reported cases increased by 4.27 percent from the 7,067 cases reported in 1999 to 7,369 cases the following year.
Hawaii is the only state that has never reported an indigenously acquired rabies case in humans or animals.
Wild animals accounted for 93 percent of reported cases of rabies in 2000. Raccoons continued to be the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species (37.7 percent), followed by skunks (30.1 percent), bats (16.8 percent), foxes (6.1 percent), and other wild animals (0.7 percent). Reported cases in raccoons decreased 3.2 percent from the totals reported in 1999. Reported cases in skunks, foxes and bats increased 7.1 percent, 17.9 percent and 25.38 percent respectively from the totals reported in 1999.
Domestic species accounted for 6.9 percent of all rabid animals reported in the United States in 2000. The number of reported rabid domestic animals decreased 15.3 percent from the 601 cases reported in 1999 to 509 in 2000.
In this century, the number of human deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has declined from 100 or more each year to an average of one or two each year. Two programs have been responsible for this decline: the near eradication of rabies in domestic dogs, and the development of effective human rabies vaccines and immunoglobins, which began in the 1940s.
Hair of the dog
Despite those improvements, and despite the Rim country's minimal rabies for the year to date, precaution remains an absolute necessity, Goodman said.
"What happened to Mr. Garner can happen to anybody, anywhere. That's why we stress that everyone get their pets vaccinated. People need to know that even if they have a fence around their yard and their dog never gets out, they still need to be vaccinated for rabies."
According to Goodman, 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 the immunization of 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.