Whenever there is an incident of rabies anywhere in Gila County, it always makes the news. With only four cases in the county in the last two years, rabies is not in the news all that much.
A bobcat was the single case of rabies in 2020 and there were cases in a bat, a fox and a coyote in 2019. Arizona in 2019 had no dogs with rabies — the state requires dogs be vaccinated: the first dose when it is old enough for the vaccine, a second dose a year later and boosters every three years after that. While Arizona does not require cats to be vaccinated for rabies, it is encouraged.
While there were no dogs reported with rabies, there were three cats, 63 skunks, 55 bats, and 16 foxes in Arizona.
The UA Cooperative Extension Service presented a webinar on Arizona’s rabies outlook for 2021 Jan. 14, with Chris Jones, extension agent, and guest speaker Dr. Jerlyn K. Sponseller.
Sponseller said rabies is a virus and it is almost always fatal without treatment. It is transmitted through saliva and all mammals are susceptible to it. While there is treatment for humans, the best defense for animals is a vaccine. Sponseller said there are six vaccines available for domestic pets and livestock.
On average the state has 30 people each year exposed to rabid animals; those who are exposed must receive vaccine and anti-rabies serum treatment to prevent infection.
Bats present the most common source of rabies exposures to humans, Sponseller said — 70% of human rabies exposures come from bats.
Bats are generally not aggressive, but rabid bats can fall to the ground — where they are easily accessible to people and pets; exposure occurs when people pickup or handle a sick or dead bat.
Exposure from bats can be hard to detect — an individual may get a small bite on their finger and not realize it; sometimes bats can come into a house and touch the eyes, nose and mouth of someone sleeping and expose them to rabies.
The last documented human rabies death in Arizona was 1981, but people are exposed each year — when people approach or feed wild animals; less often, when attacked by rabid animals such as foxes, bobcats, and skunks.
Most rabies exposures can be avoided by simply leaving bats and other wild animals alone.
Sponseller said on average 55,000 people in the U.S. receive post-exposure injections for rabies. If you think you’ve been exposed through a bite, wash the site thoroughly and seek immediate medical attention at an ER or urgent care facility.