Rabies Cases Dip In 2016, Pets Still Need Vaccination

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Friday, March 31, 2017
CONTACT:  Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist, (605) 773-3737
                  Dr. Russ Daly, State Public Health Veterinarian, (605) 688-5171

                                                     Rabies Cases Dip in 2016; Pets Still Need Vaccination

PIERRE, S.D. – Cases of animal rabies were down in 2016, but the disease remains a risk in South Dakota, according to health officials. There were 27 cases in 2016, down from 29 cases in 2015.

“Rabies is a cyclical disease and cases periodically rise and fall in South Dakota but the risk is always there,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “The first line of defense is vaccinating your pets and we encourage all pet owners to check with their veterinarians to make sure their animals are up to date on vaccinations.”

The 2016 rabies detections included six domestic animals and 21 wild animals. Two cattle, three cats and one dog made up the domestic animal detections while skunks accounted for 13 of the wild animal detections and bats, eight. Over the past decade, 48 percent of skunks tested in South Dakota have been positive for rabies, whereas three percent of bats tested positive. So far in 2017, four animals have tested positive for rabies – two cows, one goat and one cat.

State public health veterinarian Dr. Russ Daly noted that skunks are the main reservoir of rabies in the state and pass the disease to pets or livestock, which can then expose humans. “Vaccinating your pet against rabies is insurance for you and for your pet,” said Dr. Daly. “It saves you the heartache of pet loss, but it also builds a barrier between you and rabies circulating in animals that you or your pet may come into contact with.”

Dr. Daly said rabies vaccination should also be considered for other animals such as horses and show animals that have frequent contact with people.

Individuals can also reduce the risk of rabies with these precautions:

  • Do not handle, adopt or attempt to feed wild animals. Teach children to avoid animals they don't know and to tell you immediately if they are bitten or scratched by any animal.
  • Avoid any animal, wild or domestic, that behaves strangely and immediately report it to your local veterinarian, animal control or law enforcement office.
  • Do not handle dead, sick or injured animals. If you must, use heavy gloves, sticks or other tools to avoid direct contact. Wear gloves and protective eyewear when treating sick animals to prevent exposure to saliva.
  • Close outdoor trash containers tightly to avoid attracting skunks and raccoons.
  • Clear wood or junk piles from homes to deter wild animals from moving in.
  • Bat-proof your homes, cabins and other buildings. Do not handle bats. If bats are found in a room with children or sleeping people, call the health department, your physician or local animal control officer.

Contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect rabies in a wild animal, pet or livestock, or if your animal has been bitten by a possibly rabid animal. If you have a potential exposure to rabies, wash the affected area with soap and water right away and call your doctor or the Department of Health at 1-800-592-1861. Contact your veterinarian for instructions on how to handle the animal. If the animal is dead, save the carcass for testing, being careful not to damage the head. If it is alive, contact your local animal control authorities so it can be captured for examination or observation. If you are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, rabies vaccination can prevent human disease.

South Dakota’s last human rabies case was reported in 1970 when a 3-year-old Brule County child was bitten by a rabid skunk and died.

See doh.sd.gov/diseases/infectious/diseasefacts/Rabies.aspx for more information about rabies.

Preventing and controlling infectious disease is one objective of the Department of Health’s 2015-2020 strategic plan, http://doh.sd.gov/strategicplan.
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*Kightlinger (KYT'-ling-ur)
*Daly (DAY'-lee)