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AZGFD warns of possible rabies exposure as temperatures warm

Posted April 11, 2019

PHOENIX — Spring has sprung, temperatures are trending upward and people and pets are on the move outdoors — that means potential exposure to rabies will be on the increase.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds the public to protect themselves and their pets by keeping a safe distance from wildlife, especially animals that may be behaving abnormally, such as those that appear overly aggressive and/or lacking a fear of humans.

“The weather is warming up nicely and people are outside,” said Anne Justice-Allen, AZGFD wildlife veterinarian. “At this time of year, we often see an uptick in the number of wildlife submitted for rabies testing as a result of contact with people or their pets.”

Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, causing encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.

Pets such as dogs and cats, as well as livestock such as horses, should be vaccinated regularly against rabies. In addition, dogs should be on leashes when outdoors, and a veterinarian consulted if any domestic animals are injured by wildlife. Unvaccinated animals exposed to wildlife with rabies must undergo a four-month quarantine and vaccinated animals need to be quarantined for 45 days.

Rabies can be prevented in persons who have come into contact or have been bitten by wild animals through prompt administration of anti-rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.

“In Arizona, the principal rabies hosts are bats, skunks, and foxes,” Justice-Allen said. “These animals carry their own distinct strains of the rabies virus. When rabies activity within these animal groups increases, rabies can impact other mammals, such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, cats, dogs, horses or cows.”

Often infected animals may appear disoriented or intoxicated, salivate heavily or appear thirsty. The Arizona Department of Health Services recommends the following precautions to avoid exposure to rabies:

Approximately 15 people are exposed to rabid animals in Arizona annually. People who are exposed must receive vaccine and anti-rabies serum treatment to prevent infection.  Prevention information is available at: http://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/rabies/#prevention

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