Skunks at Center of Kansas Rabies Spike

Kansas reports 28 positive rabies tests, a nearly threefold increase, in the first quarter of 2015.

A change in personality or behavior is a possible sign of rabies in animals.

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Kansas State University is urging pet owners to be aware—rather than alarmed—about a sharp rise in positive rabies tests, most of them involving infected skunks.

The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory today reported that 28 animals across the state were confirmed rabies carriers in the first three months of the year compared with 10 in the same period of 2014.

Skunks were the focus of 23 recent cases, cats in three, and a head of cattle and a fox in the remaining two.

“Rabies is always around,” said laboratory diagnostician Rolan Davis. MS. “If we see a jump in cases, we feel it’s our duty to let people know and urge them to take steps to protect themselves and their pets should an infected animal wander into their backyard.”

Coinciding with the rise in positive tests was a 20 percent increase in the number of cases submitted to the lab—208 in early 2014 versus 248 in the first quarter of 2015.

“We are always cautious when reporting increased positive results because we don’t want to cry wolf,” said laboratory project manager Mike Moore, DVM, MPH. “But one quarter into the year, we have thus far seen nearly three times more positives.”

The overriding message is that pets everywhere—not just in Kansas—should be vaccinated against rabies, both for their defense and to protect people they come in contact with. Some 400 to 500 domestic pets are infected with the deadly virus each year, according to the American Humane Association.

Like skunks, bats are a common carrier of the rabies virus. A different strain involves bats, “which means the number of positive tests in that species will spike from time to time, just as it has for skunks currently,” Kansas State reported.

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