NORMAN — The rabies cases in Oklahoma this year spiked from one case in February to 18 cases in March, according to Oklahoma Department of Health statistics.
Residents may not need to be too alarmed yet, as statistics show the numbers of cases are usually at their all-time high in Oklahoma between the months of February and May. However, this year saw the most dramatic increase of rabies cases in the past few years.
Cleveland County typically keeps low statistics when it comes to rabies cases, but this year they have already had two laboratory-confirmed cases, both skunks.
Norman resident Sandra Dark said a rabid skunk was recently killed in her neighborhood near 60th Avenue Southeast and Alameda Street after it killed a puppy on a neighbor’s back porch.
“A week or so ago, an obviously sick skunk wandered across our front yard in broad daylight, so there might be more than just that one rabid skunk still on the loose,” Dark said.
Animal Welfare Director John Bowman said he has experienced many animals with distemper or other medical issues but has rarely ever had an animal test positive for rabies. That doesn’t mean they aren’t fearful of it.
“That’s one reason we really push vaccines with rabies,” he said.
Bowman said if someone sees an animal that looks like it may have rabies, distemper or a medical issue and could pose an immediate threat to the public, leave it alone and call animal welfare.
“We’ll come and pick it up,” he said.
Bowman said with the interesting weather patterns this year, reports of wildlife fluctuate.
“Last year with the drought, the longer the drought lasted and the closer to winter we got, the more reports of wildlife we got. Their habitat was dwindling, too,” Bowman said. “The less water they have, the closer to the public they come.”
Cleveland County had zero rabies cases reported in 2012. However, surrounding counties such as McClain, Pottawatomie, Oklahoma and Grady had four or more cases each in 2012.
Health department statistics show the animals that test positive for rabies in Cleveland County are typically bats and skunks. The highest number of rabies cases in the past 10 years in the county has been five skunks and one bat, reported in 2003 and 2004.
The health department only tests animals for rabies if a person or other animals have been exposed. “Exposed” meaning if the animal bit a person or another animal, another animal is known or suspected to have bitten the animal in question or saliva from the animal has come in contact with a person or another animal’s broken skin or mucus membranes.
“Any warm blooded mammal can carry or contract rabies, but the primary carriers in North America are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes,” according to The Humane Society’s facts and safety guidelines for rabies. “Skunks are the dominant rabies victims in the north- and south-central states.”
The Humane Society’s website also states, “only if the typically nocturnal raccoon or skunk is exhibiting abnormal behavior should you seek advice from your local humane society,” adding that in early spring and summer mother raccoons may forage during the day to feed their young.
For more information or statistics about rabies, visit the Oklahoma Department of Health website at www.ok.gov/health/index.html and click on disease, prevention, preparedness or visit the Humane Society website at humanesociety.org/animals/resources/facts/rabies.html.