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Rise in rabies cases expected as summer heats up in Arizona

The number of confirmed rabies cases in animals through the first five months of this year was at the highest since 2009, and state health officials said they expect cases to increase as wild animals look for food and water in areas populated by humans. (Photo by Dagnyg/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Rabies cases in Arizona have risen sharply this year compared with the same time last year, and state health officials said the problem is only likely to get worse as the temperatures rise.

There were 81 confirmed rabies cases in animals reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services through May, up from the 54 cases in the same period last year.

In addition, eight more cases were reported in the first half of June alone, health officials said.

Reported cases have not been this high in the state since 2009, when there were 126 cases from January through May, according to ADHS.

“It’s difficult to explain why certain years have higher numbers of rabies than others,” said Jessica Rigler, the branch chief of public health preparedness for the health department. “We do know that there is an outbreak going on in animals in southern and southeastern Arizona right now. … And so that usually drives the increase in rabies numbers in the year or two surrounding those outbreaks.”

Although the numbers fluctuate year to year, one constant has been the location: Most cases are reported in southern Arizona.

That’s true again this year with, with Cochise County accounting for 21 of the reported cases through May, followed by Pima with 16 and Santa Cruz with 15.

A spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said the department is bracing for more people encountering rabid animals.

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