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Drought Could Be Causing Uptick In Rabies Cases

Skunks and bats are the most common animal to have rabies in Texas according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Photo by Clinton & Charles Robertson
Skunks and bats are the most common animal to have rabies in Texas according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is reporting a high number of rabies cases, especially in Central and North Texas. The extreme heat and drought is causing wild animals to search for food and water for longer periods of time and closer to human habitat, causing clashes with people and their pets.

“The Central Texas region is seeing a marked increase in animal rabies cases, particularly in skunks. For the first six months of this year there were 268 rabies cases compared to 109 during the same time frame last year (January to June 30, 2010). Similarly, the North Texas region is seeing an increase, with 151 cases in the first half of 2011 compared with 81 cases in the first half of last year.”

Bats and skunks are the most common rabies cases in Texas. The Austin-based Bat Conservation International told KUT News that Mexican free-tailed bats are flying out of their roots earlier in the evening because of the drought.

State health officials and veterinarians are urging pet owners to update rabies vaccinations.  

“They are your true wall," said Dr. Lewis Hanks at West Lynn Veterinary Clinic. “You can think about your pets as a wall that keeps rabies from crossing from the wild animals into the human population. ”

Dr. Hanks said 40 percent of pet owners are late on dog and cat rabies vaccinations. The vaccine can be given once every three years. But Dr. Hanks said many people forget, move away or sometimes can’t afford to vaccinate their pets.

“I have some clients that economics are factor and they will come in and only get the rabies shot,” said Dr. Hanks. A rabies vaccination cost somewhere between $12 and $15.

In 1979, Texas lawmakers created the Rabies Control Act. It required all dogs and cats to be vaccinated by a veterinarian after a rabies outbreak in dogs in El Paso and Eagle Pass left two people dead.

Rabiesis a virus that attacks the nervous system and brain. The early signs of a rabies infection can last for days, according to the CDC and appear similar to the flu. They include fever, headache and general weakness. People with a severe stage of the rabies disease will experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and insomnia. 

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