Animal owners are being reminded to have their pets vaccinated against rabies to help prevent the spread of the disease.
As of June this year, Cochise County has seen 14 cases of rabies, mostly in wildlife such as skunks and foxes. However, in February a domestic cat did test positive and it was later determined the pet had been infected by a rabid fox. The last case of a cat testing positive in the region was in 2016.
“It is important to note that rabies is preventable, and it is strongly recommended for domestic animals, especially cats, to be vaccinated. Cats in particular are more likely than any other pet to roam and hunt, and therefore be exposed to wildlife,” said Cochise Health & Services Director Carrie Langley.
Rabies is an infectious disease transmitted from an infected animal to humans. In Arizona, the primary rabies hosts are bats, skunks, and foxes. The virus is transmitted in the saliva of a rabid animal through a bite and is almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms start.
Since 2016, Cochise County has seen a downward trend in the disease. There were 43 cases in 2016. A rise in rabies is typically due to natural population increases in host animals such as bats and skunks, which then results in “spill-over” to atypical animals like bobcats and coyotes. Arizona is also seeing a decrease in cases, with 69 cases reported so far this year, compared to 96 during the same period in 2018.
Both neighboring Santa Cruz and Pima Counties have reported 14 and 18 cases respectively this year. In 2015, Santa Cruz County established a rabies quarantine for one year after experiencing an increased number of cases – a policy which successfully increased the vaccination rate in pets and domestic livestock.
While Cochise County does not anticipate the need to establish a rabies quarantine, health officials are working to increase vaccination opportunities for pets and are providing education on other prevention strategies.
In addition to vaccinating pets and domestic livestock, residents are advised to be observant of animals showing unusual behavior such as lethargy, difficulty walking, excessive salivation, and aggression. Any such behavior should be reported to the local animal control or Sheriff’s Office.
Should you or your pets be bitten by an animal, wash the area with soap and water (put on gloves when cleaning pet wounds), and then seek immediate medical treatment. Local authorities should then be notified: Cochise County Sheriff’s Department at (520) 432-9500 and Cochise Health & Social Services at 800-432-7271.
“Awareness of rabies in Cochise County is very important,” added Langley. “Keep pets inside, or on a leash when outdoors, don’t leave pet food outside, and do not feed stray animals. While rabies is a concerning infectious disease, it’s important to remember that it is preventable through vaccinations.”