South Dakota rabies down for fifth straight year There were just 24 cases of animal rabies in South Dakota in 2008, the lowest number of cases in nearly 50 years. Case numbers dropped from 27 in 2007 and represented the fifth straight year of declining case numbers. The 24 positives resulted from 679 animals submitted for testing. The wild rabid animals included 16 skunks and 4 bats. Four domestic animals tested positive, 2 cattle and 2 horses. There were no human rabies cases in South Dakota in 2007. The last human case was reported in the state in 1970. The risk of rabies is statewide, although all but four of the state's rabies detections in 2008 were East River. In South Dakota, the common skunk is the primary rabies reservoir animal and bats may also carry the disease. Infected wild animals can pass rabies to pets or livestock, which can in turn expose humans. Even wild animals that appear docile can be rabid so it's important that people don't attempt to catch or handle wildlife. Because there is a large rabies reservoir in South Dakota's skunk populations, it's also important that people get an annual rabies vaccination for pets. Vaccination is also recommended for very valuable livestock and those that have frequent contact with people, such as horses that are kept close to dwellings or used by kids. Reduce the risk of rabies by taking the following precautions: • 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. If you suspect rabies in a wild animal, pet or livestock, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice on how to proceed. If you have a potential exposure to rabies, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and call your doctor or the Department of Health. 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. If people are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, human disease can be prevented by getting the rabies vaccination. Due to a national shortage of human rabies vaccine, health care providers should consult with the Health Department before ordering vaccines doses for preventive treatment of rabies. The process is intended to ensure that rabies vaccine is available for those that truly need it; everyone who has needed the vaccine in South Dakota has been able to get it. For more information about human rabies control, call the Department of Health at 1-800-592-1861 or see the web site at http://doh.sd.gov/DiseaseFacts/Rabies.aspx. For information on animal rabies control call the Animal Industry Board at 605-773-3321 or see the web at http://www.state.sd.us/aib/disease%20control.htm.