After two years of increasing cases, rabies numbers in South Dakota dropped to 28 in 2013. There were 60 cases of animal rabies in 2012 and 40 in 2011.
“Rabies is a cyclical disease, with high case numbers one year and lower numbers the next but the fact is that it is a risk every year in South Dakota,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “It’s important to make sure your pets are vaccinated to protect yourself and your animals.”
Twenty South Dakota counties had rabies detections in 2013. Those detections included seven domestic animals – five cattle, one dog and one cat – as well as 16 skunks and five bats. South Dakota’s last human rabies case was reported in 1970.
Infected wild animals can pass rabies to pets or livestock, which can then expose humans. A non-vaccinated pet bitten by a rabid animal will likely have to be put to sleep, noted Dr. Russ Daly, state public health veterinarian. “Rabies vaccinations for pets are widely available and not expensive,” said Dr. Daly. “Getting your pet vaccinated not only protects people, it may save the life of your pet as well.”
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 a sick animal
- 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.
- Do not handle bats. If bats are found in a room with children or sleeping people, call the department of Health, 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.