State official frets over possibility of rabies

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

Two recent encounters between skunks and dogs in Roosevelt County have a state official concerned about the possible spread of rabies.

Both skunks involved in fights with dogs were tested. The results on one skunk were inconclusive and the other was negative, according to Carol Morgan, a nurse with the New Mexico Department of Health in Portales.

There have been no rabies reports in Roosevelt County this year, according to Monica Olkowski, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health.

Morgan said of the four dogs involved in the incidents, only one was bitten.

One dog, which had been vaccinated last year, was given a booster and will be watched for signs of the disease for 45 days, Morgan said.

Behavior changes are an indication that an animal may be affected with rabies, such as an animal that suddenly becomes unfriendly or a nocturnal animal ventures out in the day time, Olkowski said.

“Basically animals just start acting abnormally. Rabies is a neurological disorder,” Olkowski said.

Dr. Kathryn Bartlett of Caprock Veterinarian Clinic said it’s important to keep animals up to date on their vaccinations.

In the event animals or humans come into contact with a possibly rabid animal it is advised that the animal in question be destroyed.

Bartlett advises the animal not be shot or killed where the head is compromised. Trauma or decomposition, can affect the test results, Bartlett said.

“We need to have the head intact in order to test it,” Bartlett said.

At a glance

What is rabies?
• Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals that is transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.

What are the symptoms of rabies?
In humans:
Early symptoms are nonspecific but include:
• Fever
• Headache
• General malaise
As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms occur:
• Insomnia
• Anxiety
• Confusion
• Slight or partial paralysis
• Excitiation
• Hallucinations
• Agitation
• Hypersalivation
• Diffuculty swallowing
• Hydrophobia (fear of water)

Signs that an animal may have rabies:
• Change in behavior
• Nocturnal animals are seen out in the light
• Walking as if they are drunk or hurt

Animals that can carry rabies:
• Bats — Most common carrier
• Skunks
• Dogs – There are no K-9 rabies in the United States, but dogs can be a carrier.

How to protect your pets against rabies
• Keep rabies vaccinations up to date
• Maintain control of your pets
• Spay or neuter pets to help keep unwanted animals off of your property

To decrease chances of infections officials advise that the wound be thoroughly washed with soap and water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Source: New Mexico Department of Health