South Dakota animal rabies cases were up in 2012, climbing for the second straight year, according to the yearly surveillance report recently released by the Department of Health. There were 60 animal rabies cases in 2012, up from 40 the year before.
While animal rabies is reported every year, the disease tends to be cyclical, with years of high case numbers followed by years with lower numbers, noted Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “Rabies is a risk every year in South Dakota and that risk is statewide,” said Kightlinger. “Rabies vaccination is readily available, inexpensive and important to protect your pets and the people around them.”
In 2012 there were rabies detections in 29 South Dakota counties. Those rabies positives included 21 domestic animals – 16 cattle, three horses, two cats – as well as 36 skunks and three bats. South Dakota’s last human rabies case was reported in 1970.
The 16 rabid cattle in 2012 was the highest number of cases in 15 years for South Dakota and higher than any state in the country.
Beef and dairy cattle are usually exposed to rabies through bites from skunks and people can in turn be exposed by contact with the cattle’s saliva. Dr. Russ Daly, State Public Health Veterinarian, noted that signs of rabies in cattle can be very vague and may start as subtle behavior changes and progress to salivation, abnormal bellowing, persistent heat cycles, and incoordination. Contact a veterinarian right away if you suspect rabies in an animal and avoid contact with the saliva of that animal.
“Rabies vaccine is available for cattle but routine vaccination of cattle herds isn’t practical,” said Dr. Daly. “However, show animals and others that have a lot of human contact should be vaccinated for rabies starting in the spring. The vaccine for cattle is good for one year and has a 21 day withdrawal period.”
In addition to vaccinating pets and other animals with frequent human contact, 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 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 at (800) 592-1861. 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.
Rabies information resources
- Department of Health – doh.sd.gov/DiseaseFacts/Rabies.aspx
- Animal Industry Board, (605) 773-3321 – aib.sd.gov/diseasecontrol.shtm#other
- SDSU Cooperative Extension – pubstorage.sdstate.edu/AgBio_Publications/articles/exex11026.pdf