South Dakota animal rabies decreases in 2004

South Dakota animal rabies decreases in 2004 Animal rabies dropped 29 percent in South Dakota from 2003 to 2004, according to figures released today by the Department of Health.

A total of 94 animals tested positive for rabies in 2004, down from 132 in 2003.�The wild rabid animals included 67 skunks, four bats, and one woodchuck. Twenty-two domestic animals tested positive and included 11 cattle, five cats, three dogs and three horses.�There were no human rabies cases in South Dakota in 2004. The last human case was reported in the state in 1970.

The risk of rabies is statewide with all but four counties reporting cases since 1990. The common skunk is the primary rabies reservoir animal in South Dakota. Pets and livestock contract rabies when bitten by rabid skunks. Wild bats may also carry rabies in South Dakota

Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist, emphasized that infected wild animals can pass rabies to pets or livestock, which can in turn expose humans. "It's important that people don't attempt to catch or handle wildlife, and that they avoid animals that are unusually tame, aggressive or paralyzed," said Kightlinger.�"Every year we have reports of people attacked by very aggressive, frenzied skunks, but even docile appearing wild animals can be rabid."

Safe and effective rabies vaccines are available for pets and some classes of livestock. Dr. Sam Holland, state veterinarian, urged 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.

The following suggestions can reduce the risk of rabies:

* Vaccinate pet dogs and cats for 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 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.

* Skunks and bats, rabies reservoir species, should not be used in school or petting zoo displays where direct contact with the public is possible.

* 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 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.

* Clear wood or junk piles away from houses to discourage wild animals from moving in.

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

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.

If person is bitten or scratched by an animal, 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 head 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 bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, human disease can be prevented by getting the rabies vaccination.

For more information about rabies control, call the Department of Health at 1-800-592-1861 or see the Web site at /doh/Pubs/rabies.htm.

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