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Rabid skunk found near City Park

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera County Rabies Control Officer Conrad Nightingale, DVM, has confirmed that a rabid skunk has been found near Bandera City Park. Earlier this year, a raccoon also found close to the city tested positive for the rabies virus, according to Jennifer Mills, DVM.
On Monday, April 14, City Park Manager Joe Frazier noticed a skunk acting abnormally. He found the animal in a rock pile in the vicinity of 2nd and 3rd streets and Cypress Street. Frazier transported the skunk to the Bandera Veterinary Clinic where it was euthanized and the head sent to Metro Health Laboratory in Austin for testing. Mills and Nightingale received the positive rabies report on Friday, April 25.
Mills urged that people report any abnormal behavior in wildlife such as nocturnal animals active during the day and wildlife not retreating from people. She also emphasized avoiding any suspect animals. Sightings can be reported to both city and county law enforcement officers by calling emergency dispatch at 830-796-3771.
"We also ask that people be very careful when dealing with feral cats. People tending feral cat colonies should be aware that skunks and raccoons can feed with cats at night. They're very fond of cat food. Comingling with wild animals can expose cats to rabies," Mills explained. "It's far easier to get bitten or scratched by a feral cat than a skunk so we're urging people not to handle feral cats."
Currently, the city has a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats. After being spayed or neutered, the cats are vaccinated against rabies and one ear is notched. "A notched ear indicates that the cat has been vaccinated against rabies in the past," Mills explained.
She also recommended that city and county residents ensure that their companion animals are up-to-date with rabies vaccinations as recommended by their veterinarians.
As per state law, if a cat or dog bites or scratches anyone and breaks the skin, the animal must be quarantined for 10 days at a veterinarian clinic located within the county - even if the animal's rabies vaccination is current.
"Laws are there to protect humans," Mills explained. "It's a public heath issue."
Rabies, an infectious disease affecting the central nervous system in mammals, is transmitted through the saliva a few days before death when the animal "sheds" the virus. If an animal is infected with the virus, it will be exhibited within the 10-day quarantine period.
Moreover, rabies is not transmitted through the blood, urine or feces of an infected animal, nor is it spread airborne through the open environment. Because it affects the nervous system, most rabid animals behave abnormally.
Reiterating Mills' suggestions, state health and wildlife experts make the following recommendations to protect people and pets from rabies:
• Make sure dogs, cats and ferrets are properly vaccinated against rabies. This is the law.
• Avoid all contact with stray, wild or free-roaming domestic animals. Any warm-blooded mammal can carry or contract rabies, but the primary carriers in North America are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes.
Interestingly, opossums are amazingly resistant to rabies. Hissing, drooling and swaying are part of the opossum's bluff routine intended to scare away potential predators. Yet, this behavior mimics rabies symptoms, convincing people they're seeing "rabid opossums" when they're not.
• Call the local health department if you have had any contact with a stray, wild or free-roaming domestic animal.
• Call your local animal control officer or veterinarian if one of your companion animals has had contact with a stray, wild or free-roaming domestic animal.
• Secure trash so that animals will not be attracted to it.
• Do not feed animals outdoors, as this will attract other animals. This is especially dangerous when feeding large numbers of free-roaming cats.
• Do not leave pets outdoors loose or unattended.
Mills also noted another statistic to give pet owners' pause. According to Edward J. Wozniak, DVM, who serves as regional veterinarian for the Texas Department of State Health Services, in the past three months, Region 8 has already had twice the number of positive rabies cases that was reported in the 28-county area last year.
During a recent three-day period, Bexar County animal control officers reportedly impounded eight animals that they suspect might be infected with rabies.
"It's going to be a long summer," Mills said. "Everyone should be particularly careful."
(Source: Humane Society of the United States)