Animal rabies cases up in 2011

The number of animal rabies cases rose to 40 in 2011, up from 32 cases the year before, according to the annual rabies surveillance report recently released by the Department of Health.

"We can't emphasize enough how important it is for people to vaccinate their pets for rabies," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the department. "Skunks are the main reservoir of rabies in South Dakota and the risk of skunks exposing pets is always a possibility."

Rabies risk is statewide, with 63 counties submitting 711 animals for testing in 2011 and positives coming from 23 counties. The 28 wild animal positives included 20 skunks, six bats and two raccoons; the domestic animals included four cats, four cattle, three dogs and one horse. South Dakota's last human rabies case was reported in 1970.

Skunks and other infected wild animals can pass rabies to pets or livestock, which can then expose humans. A non-vaccinated pet bitten by a rabid animal will likely have to be put to sleep, noted Dr. Russ Daly, state public health veterinarian.

"Rabies vaccinations for pets are widely available and not expensive," Daly said. "Getting your pet vaccinated not only protects people, it may save the life of the pet as well."

Rabies vaccination should also be considered for other animals with human contact, said Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, state veterinarian.

"Most people are aware of the need to vaccinate pets for rabies but don't always think about vaccinating horses and other valuable livestock. We recommend vaccinating any livestock that has frequent contact with people, such as horses that are kept close to home or interact with kids," Oedekoven said.

In addition to vaccinating pets, reduce the risk of rabies with these precautions:

  • Do not handle, adopt, or attempt to feed wild animals. Teach children to avoid 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 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 homes to deter 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 local animal control officer.

If you suspect rabies in a wild animal, pet or livestock – or if your animal has been bitten by a possibly rabid animal – contact your veterinarian immediately. If you have a potential exposure to rabies, wash the affected area with soap and water right away 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 testing, being careful not to damage the head. If the animal is alive, contact your local animal control authorities so it can be captured for examination or observation. If you are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, rabies vaccination can prevent human disease.

For more information about human rabies control, call the Department of Health at 1-800-592-1861 or see the web site at .

For information on animal rabies control call the Animal Industry Board at (605) 773-3321 or see the web at

Information about rabies control and prevention is also available in this SDSU Extension publication,

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