Rabies risk increases in spring and summer

Rabies risk increases in spring and summer Each spring and summer, the risk of rabies exposure goes up as wild animals become more active and people spend time outdoors, says a state health official.

"Because infected animals can easily pass rabies to pets or domestic animals, few areas in South Dakota or the rest of the nation are free from rabies," said LaJean Volmer, Disease Prevention director for the Department of Health. "In South Dakota, skunks are most frequently reported as rabid and are the major means of passing rabies to domestic animals."

According to Volmer, rabies shots for dogs and cats and stricter animal control laws have reduced the threat of rabies to humans, but the problem still exists. In the past five years, 29 dogs and 24 cats have tested positive for rabies in South Dakota. Virtually all of these animals were vaccinated.

All dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies at three months of age and then re-vaccinated according to specific vaccine or licensing requirements. And, while it's impractical to vaccinate all livestock against rabies, vaccines are available for cattle, sheep and horses. Such vaccination should be considered for livestock that are particularly valuable or have frequent contact with humans.

In addition to vaccinating domestic animals with approved vaccines, Volmer said other precautions can reduce the risk of exposure to animals.

* Do not handle or attempt to feed any wild animals. Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays or animals they don't know. Make sure they tell you immediately if they are bitten or scratched by any animal.

* Avoid any animal, wild or domestic, that behaves strangely and report it to your local animal control, conservation or law enforcement office.

* Do not handle dead, sick or injured animals. If you must handle such animals, use heavy gloves, sticks, or other tools to avoid direct contact. Farmers and ranchers in particular should wear gloves and protective eyewear when treating sick animals to protect themselves against exposure to saliva.

* Because garbage attracts animals like skunks and raccoons, keep outdoor trash containers tightly closed.

* In rural areas, clear wood or junk piles away from dwellings to discourage wild animals from moving in.

If in spite of these precautions, you or a family member is exposed to rabies, thoroughly wash the affected area immediately with soap and water and call your doctor or health department. If the animal is dead, save the carcass for laboratory examination, being careful not to damage the head. If the animal is alive, try to capture it for examination or observation but be sure to avoid further exposure. If the animal escapes, note its description for later identification.

"If people are exposed to rabies, they should remember that safe and effective vaccinations are available," said Volmer. "Anti-rabies treatment has proven 100% effective when administered without delay."

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