Rabies cases showing up early, often

Monday, March 12, 2012

CARROLL COUNTY -- Authorities in neighboring Boone County have reported an unusually high number of rabid skunk cases so far this year with seven confirmed as of last week.

In Carroll County, none have been reported so far -- although there was one skunk that tested positive late last year, in December.

"We've had one incident in Carroll County," confirmed Tobin Baker, an environmental specialist with the Carroll County Health Unit. "We've submitted some skunks for testing and all came back negative except this one."

That rabid skunk, he said, came from a rural farm southwest of Berryville.

Horses on that farm have been placed in quarantine for six months, he said, as a precautionary measure because they may have been exposed.

He said the other skunks that tested negative for rabies were submitted by property owners who saw them "acting funny, or clumsy," he said, usually in the daytime.

Skunks are nocturnal animals that normally shy away from people and pets.

Baker says people who suspect a skunk is rabid usually shoot them and take the body to their local vet, where the head is removed and sent to the state for testing.

"It's the head that is tested," Baker explained, "so don't shoot them in the head."

Although Carroll County has no confirmed rabies cases this year, Dr. Susan Weinstein, the state public health veterinarian, says there are rabid skunks around.

"We've had seven in Boone County, two in Newton and one in Searcy," she said. "They are in this part of the state. Skunks don't observe county lines."

She said here has been a "bit of a panic" because of the number of confirmed cases recently, but in reality, "it's business as usual."

Statewide, there have been 20 confirmed rabid skunks so far this year as compared to 35 the previous year.

She believes this latest round of confirmed rabies cases surfaced earlier than usual because of the non-existent winter and continued warm weather.

As a precaution, Dr. Weinstein urges all pet owners to have their dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies at their local vet's office. She said rabies vaccinations are required by state law and she "highly recommends" pet owners stay current on those vaccinations.

Anyone wanting more information or assistance with suspected rabid skunks can call Baker at the Carroll County Heath Unit at (870) 423-2923.

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