FLORENCE, AZ – Public Health officials in Pinal and Maricopa Counties today said the Arizona Department of Health Services State Public Health Laboratory has confirmed at least two cases of rabies from animals near the Superstition Mountains, which includes Lost Dutchman State Park, the First Water Trail and the Tonto National Forest, is a popular destination for hikers during this time of year. Signs warning hikers and campers have been posted at numerous locations including trailheads, campgrounds and entry stations.
“From the reports we have been getting from hikers in the area, it looks like we have an increase of rabies in wild animals,” stated Pinal County Epidemiologist Graham Briggs. “Two of the cases have been confirmed, but park officials have reported seeing dead animals along with aggressive animals on the trails.” Pinal County Animal Care and Control Director Audra Michael said that hikers should be careful when bringing their pets on a hike.“The first thing is to make sure your pets are properly vaccinated,” Michael said. “The other is not to let them roam free while you are hiking, always have them on a leash.”
Facts about Rabies
Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord of animals and humans. It is caused by a virus present in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to humans through contact with the live virus. Rabies is fatal to humans once symptoms appear. If you feel you have been exposed to an animal with rabies, see a doctor immediately.
While human exposures to rabid animals are rare, family pets are more often exposed to wild animals, including wild animals that are rabid. Vaccination against rabies is available through your veterinarian or County Animal Care and Control. This will prevent them from getting rabies if exposed to a rabid animal. Unfortunately, household pets that are not vaccinated against rabies need to be put to sleep after having an exposure to a wild animal.
Rabies is found mainly in wild animals such as bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also become infected with rabies if they are bitten by rabid wild animals and they have not been vaccinated. Rodents such as rats, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs and squirrels are not likely to be infected with rabies. Wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior should be reported to local animal control officials. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid touching, handling, or adopting wild or stray animals.
The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal’s behavior. Animals may act more aggressive or more tame than usual. Animals usually active at night such as skunks, foxes, and bats may be out during the day. Rabid animals may appear agitated and excited or paralyzed and frightened. Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies. That is why contact with wild animals should always be avoided.
Animal Care and Control recommends the following precautions
- Keep people and pets away from wild animals. Do not pick up, touch, or feed wild or unfamiliar animals, especially sick or wounded ones. If someone has been bitten or scratched, or has had contact with the animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials.
- Do not “rescue” seemingly abandoned young wild animals. Usually, the mother will return. If the mother is dead or has not returned in many hours, call the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
- Vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies. Pets should be kept in a fenced yard.
- Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.
- Do not disturb roosting bats. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department. Place a box over the bat to contain it. Be careful not to damage the bat in any way since it must be intact for rabies testing.
For more information on rabies, go to www.cdc.gov/rabies.