Rabies numbers increase in S.D.

Rabies numbers increase in S.D. South Dakota saw a 66 percent increase in rabies between 2001 and 2002, and numbers are on pace for another increase this year, says a state health official. Figures released by the Department of Health show 96 animals tested positive for rabies in 2002, up from 58 in 2001. There have already been 44 rabid animal confirmations, as of April 30 this year.

"Rabid animals can be present any time during the year, but the risk of rabies exposure is highest 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. "Wild animals infected with rabies easily transmit the disease to pets or domestic animals, which is why vaccination is so important."

Of the 96 animals testing positive for rabies, 59 were skunks and nine were bats, compared to 28 domestic animals, which included eight cattle, six cats, four horses, two goats and eight dogs.

Thirty-nine counties reported confirmed rabies cases in 2002. Kightlinger said that of the 58 rabid dogs investigated between 1993 and 2002, none were fully immunized, 83 percent had never been immunized, 7 percent were inadequately immunized, and 10 percent were of unknown vaccination status. There have been no human rabies cases reported in South Dakota since 1970.

Safe and effective rabies vaccines are available for pets and some classes of livestock. State Veterinarian, Dr. Sam Holland urges owners to have all pets vaccinated annually due to the 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 impractical to vaccinate all livestock against rabies, vaccines should be considered for livestock that are particularly valuable or have frequent contact with humans.

Dr. Kightlinger suggested the following steps and help people reduce their risk of rabies:

* Don't handle, adopt, or try 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 or scratched by any 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 dwellings to discourage wild animals from moving in.

* Bat-proof your house.

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

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

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

For 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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