Cases of rabies in animals each year are common across the Southwest. The dreaded disease can spread easily and rapidly among wildlife and domestic animals, even horses and cattle.
But health officials in Eddy County, New Mexico, say a rash of what is believed to be rabid skunks has raised concerns that this year could be as bad or worse than 2012 and advise local residents to vaccinate pets and warn children of the dangers of handling wild or unknown animals.
While only four cases of animal rabies have been confirmed in New Mexico so far this year, a number of "skunks acting strangely" in Carlsbad have been reported by police officials and residents, and two cases have recently been confirmed.
Carlsbad is the county seat for Eddy County, which was plagued by a major rabies outbreak two years ago. While the number of cases of confirmed rabies is just beginning to spike with the onset of summer weather, officials say several animal are currently under observation and confirm they are watching for skunks that were spotted but have eluded capture.
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The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDH) and the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department announced this week two bats from the South Valley of Albuquerque have tested positive for rabies in the last two weeks.
The latest case happened this week when a rabid bat was found crawling on a woman’s bare foot before she kicked it away. The bat was confirmed to be infected with the rabies virus and the woman must now undergo a series of vaccinations as a safety measure to avoid the disease.
“In New Mexico, bats, skunks and foxes are reservoirs for rabies and can transmit the virus to people, pets, livestock or other wild animals,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian with NMDH. “We urge everyone to vaccinate their pets and livestock against rabies; vaccination is one of the most effective public health tools we have to prevent humans from being exposed to rabies.”
In 2012, 48 rabies cases were confirmed in New Mexico, 41 of them were in Eddy County.
In Texas this year the number of rabid animal cases has risen to 320 so far, including four horses and eight cows. Leading the list are more than 120 cases of rabies confirmed in skunks and more than 54 in bats.
Last year Texas recorded 937 confirmed cases of animal rabies including 13 bovine and 7 equine cases. Bats and skunks account for 839 of those confirmed rabies cases. The remaining cases included rabies in cats, dogs, raccoons, and fox.
Confirmed cases of fox and dog rabies Valencia County, New Mexico, last year and the potential for another busy year for the spread of rabies has concerned officials all across communities in the southern region of the state.
Socorro County veterinarian Dean Wilkinson is advising horse owners to vaccinate their animals this year before the summer rabies season heats up. Dr. Paul Ettestad, agrees.
“It's a good safety precaution to get your horse inoculated with a rabies booster every year," he advises.
He warns that confusing symptoms can easily lead to horse handlers being exposed to the virus and warns that annual vaccinations or rabies boosters for horses, like those for dogs and cats and other domestic pets, are the only sure way to minimize human exposure.
New Mexico Department of Health officials do not routinely advise vaccinating cows and steers, but the increased number of rabies cases in recent year and the introduction of fox rabies from Arizona has heightened concerns and livestock vaccinations should remain an option to help curb the spread of the disease.