What to Know About Rabies - December 31, 2008
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County


I have had some questions about rabies since a Prescott area woman was bitten by a rabid fox on November 5, 2008. In case you have not heard the story, the woman was out jogging on a local trail when a fox attacked her and bit her on the foot. She grabbed the fox by the neck when it went for her leg but it then bit her arm. Thinking quickly, the woman wanted the animal tested for rabies so she held the foxís neck and ran a mile back to her car with the fox still biting her arm, then pried it off and tossed it into the trunk of her car and drove to the hospital where it also bit and animal control officer. Testing confirmed the fox was indeed rabid. Both the woman and the officer have received rabies vaccinations and are doing fine.

So, we know from the above incident that anyone can encounter a rabid animal and rabies is present in Yavapai County. There were 10 confirmed rabies positive animals reported in Yavapai County in 2008 (Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, 2008), 6 in 2007, 4 in 2006, and a high of 14 in 2002. Over the last ten years, 57% of the confirmed rabies positive animals found in Arizona were bats (721), 15% were foxes (181), and 23% were skunks (303). Other animal species that tested positive for rabies in the last ten years were badgers (2), bobcats (32), coatimundi (1), coyotes (14), domestic cats (3), domestic dogs (3), javelina (1), mountain lions (2), llamas (3), raccoon (1), and steers (2). These data are courtesy of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Rabies is not, in the natural sense, a disease of humans. Human infection is minor in comparison to the reservoir of disease in wild and domestic animals.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.

The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the 20th century to one or two per year in the 1990's. Modern day prevention and treatment following exposure has proven nearly 100% successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. This is especially true with exposures to bats, as bat bites can be difficult to detect.

For a person with symptoms of rabies, treatment involves supportive care. There is no cure for such cases, and death is almost certain. If a person is bitten by a rabid animal and has not yet experienced symptoms, there is an extremely effective post-exposure rabies treatment, which includes an injection of rabies immune globulin and several containing rabies vaccine given over a 28-day period. No one in the United States has developed rabies when this treatment regimen was followed.

Rabies exposure can also occur when scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or other potentially infectious material (such as brain tissue) from a rabid animal constitute non-bite exposures. So, what can you do to protect yourself and your pets from rabies? Be aware of your surroundings and report any animals that exhibit sickness or unusual behavior to local animal control authorities and/or law enforcement. Keep your petís rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs. If you suspect any potential exposure, visit your doctor and follow the prescribed treatment regimen.

For more information about rabies, you may visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov or the Arizona Department of Health Services website at www.azdhs.gov or phone: (602) 542-1001.

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at cottonwoodmg@yahoo.com and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: December 22, 2008
Content Questions/Comments: jschalau@ag.arizona.edu
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