Wild animals account for most rabies in S.D.

Wild animals account for most rabies in S.D. Wild animals accounted for the majority of animals testing positive for rabies in South Dakota 2001, according to figures released by the Department of Health.

Of the 58 animals testing positive for rabies, 34 were skunks and 11 were bats, compared to 13 domestic animals. Thirty-three counties reported confirmed rabies cases in 2001.

This year, as of April 30, there have been 31 rabid animal confirmations, including one horse, three dogs, five cattle and 22 skunks.

"Although rabid animals are present throughout the year, the risk of rabies exposure increases in the spring because wild animals are more active and people spend more time outside," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. "Infected animals can easily pass rabies to pets or domestic animals, which is why vaccination is so important."

Kightlinger said that of the 50 rabid dogs investigated between 1993 and 2001, none were fully immunized, 80 percent had never been immunized, 8 percent were inadequately immunized, and 12 percent were of unknown vaccination status.

Safe and effective rabies vaccines are available for pets and some classes of livestock. State Veterinarian Dr. Sam Holland urged owners to have all pets vaccinated annually due to a large rabies reservoir that exists in skunks in South Dakota.

Dr. Holland also recommended annual vaccination for horses that are kept close to dwellings or used frequently by children. While it's practical to vaccinate all livestock against rabies, vaccines should be considered for livestock that are particularly valuable or have frequent contact with humans.

Dr. Kightlinger offered the following suggestions to reduce the risk of rabies:

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

* Avoid any animal, wild

or domestic, that behaves strangely and immediately

report it to your local veterinarian, animal control, conservation, or law enforcement office.

* Do not handle dead, sick or injured animals. If you must, 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 prevent exposure to saliva.

* Close outdoor trash containers tightly to avoid attracting skunks and raccoons.

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

* Bat-proof your house.

* Do not handle bats. If bats are found in a room with small children or sleeping people, call the Department of Health or your physician.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect rabies in any wild animal, pet, or livestock. Your veterinarian can give you the necessary advice on how to proceed.

In the event of a potential exposure, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and call your doctor or health department. Your veterinarian will instruct you as to the handling of animals involved.

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.

More information about rabies control, call the Department of Health at 1-800-

592-1861 or see the Web site at http://www.state.sd.us/doh/Pubs/rabies.htm.

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