Rabid skunks prompts need for pet owners' awareness

The recent discovery of two rabid skunks in Haskell is something officials are taking seriously, said Mayor Jeff Arey.
"Because of this, we're encouraging people to get their pets vaccinated against rabies," he said. "Previously we've partnered with the Humane Society to hold rabies clinics, but we're putting more emphasis on this year's clinic."
The drive-through, low-cost clinic is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, on the parking lot of Harmony Grove High School, 2621 Arkansas 229 in Haskell.
"Every year Haskell partners with the Humane Society and puts this on," Arey said. "This year it's just more important than ever considering that rabies has been found in our area."
The cost for each animal — dog or cat — will be $10 for the rabies vaccine; $10 for the annual shots; plus an additional $10 for dogs for bordetella (kennel cough).
All payments must be made in cash, Arey noted.
Dr. Eric Jayne, a licensed veterinarian, will be administering all vaccinations.
Local and state Health Department officials have encouraged pet owners to make certain that their pets are up to date with their vaccinations.
Dr. Sue Weinstein, state public health veterinarian, said the two skunks were out during the daytime and displayed abnormal behavior. "The animals were not walking properly and their behavior was clearly not normal for a skunk," Weinstein said.
The two were less than a mile from one another and one was seen near Harmony Grove School, she said.
"We want to get to the point that we're not alarming people unnecessarily, but want to inform them that this is real and that they should have their pets vaccinated by a veterinarian.
"Children should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets," she said.
"It's incredible how few people are vaccinating their pets," Weinstein added.
Of the animals requiring quarantine statewide because of exposure to rabid skunks, she noted that 50 percent not only were not current on their vaccinations, but had never been vaccinated; another 32 percent had had a vaccination at some point, but were not current; and only 18 percent were current.
Weinstein said Harmony Grove School officials were given handouts to inform the students about the dangers that rabies poses and the importance of vaccinating pets.
According to the Health Department, rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. It is most often seen in Arkansas in skunks and bats. However, cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock also can develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated. The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.
All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. This not only protects the animal, but also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, as pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than are humans.