State health department reports rising number of rabies cases

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The Arkansas Department of Health reports 58 animals have tested positive for rabies this year, almost reaching last year's total of 60 cases.

Experts are saying the rising number of incidents shows the importance of prevention, and the best line of defense is the rabies vaccination.

"We don't want an innocent animal to lose its life because we haven't spent a few dollars to take an animal to get a vaccination," said Wannda Turner with Northeast Arkansans for Animals (NAFA).

Turner points out the state's Rabies Control Act, which requires all dogs and cats to receive a rabies vaccine. Veterinarian Archie Ryan follows a procedure, only checking out animals who have had the shot.

"In most other clinics, in pet stores and grooming facilities, they require (pets) to have a vaccine to protect the employees," Dr. Ryan said, who owns Southwest Drive Animal Clinic in Jonesboro.

Ryan says vaccinated pets guard their owners from the deadly viral disease, which has popped up more frequently in recent months.

"Prior to the rabies vaccinations of dogs and cats was required, quite a few people used to get rabies in the United States," Ryan noted. "Then, once we started rabies vaccines in pets in the (1950s), it declined dramatically to near zero."

Only animals have been affected this year, the state health department reports. Northeast Arkansas has seen one case after officials found a rabid bat in Randolph County. The bulk of the cases, however, has occurred in the central and western parts of the state, where 52 skunks have tested positive for rabies.

"The good thing is it doesn't involve us as much, but it will involve you if you travel around the state," Ryan said. "It's good to remember that rabies is a possibility. As always, get your dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies."

"If you see an animal and it looks sick or you see an animal and it's going to let you touch it, leave it alone," Wannda Turner added.

Avoiding wildlife is just one safety precaution, which Turner says is only superseded by getting the vaccine.

Her group is making it easy for low-income pet owners to afford the shot. NAFA is hosting a low-cost vaccination clinic Saturday, April 14, at its building, located on 233 North Gee Street in Jonesboro. From 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., people who qualify can pay just $7 to get the rabies vaccine.

For more information, call NAFA at 870-932-1955.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.