Arizona wildlife officials warn about rabies threat as temperatures rise

Apr 19, 2024, 4:35 AM | Updated: 10:00 am

Arizonans should make sure their pets and livestock have up-to-date rabies vaccinations, health off...

Arizonans should make sure their pets and livestock have up-to-date rabies vaccinations, health officials say. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department is sounding the alarm on the need to protect pets and livestock from rabies as temperatures increase.

The warning came after a recent incident at Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona. The agency said a rabid gray fox bit several people in month in two attacks.

A park service officer later euthanized the fox.

Why authorities are issuing a rabies warning

More animals are out and about this time of year, according to State Wildlife Veterinarian Anne Justice-Allen.

More animals means a greater risk of rabies infections.

“They’re coming out of dens and winter hibernation or periods of inactivity,” she said. “We also have wildlife looking for mates and things like that. So, we just see a lot more interaction.”

Rabies is a viral infection that affects nearly all mammals. It causes inflammation in the brain, which can lead to abnormal behavior.

The World Health Organization states the disease “is virtually 100% fatal.”

Which Arizona animals are the biggest rabies spreaders?

Stray dogs are typically associated with spreading rabies, but, in Arizona, bats and skunks are the common culprits for spreading rabies.

Here are some red flags that suggest an animal could have a rabies infection:

  • Increased aggression
  • Paralysis
  • Limping
  • Abnormal salivation, inability to swallow
  • Other abnormal behaviors

Although infected animals can be found anywhere in the state, Justice-Allen said the risk is higher in southern Arizona.

“Southern Arizona, for the most part (and) eastern Arizona around the East Valley area of Phoenix,” she said. “We’ve had some cases in the Sedona area.”

Rabies warning came with tricks on how to prevent infections

There a few things Arizonans can do to reduce their risk of a getting a rabies infection.

First, if you are hiking or out in a wilderness area, put any pets on a leash and keep them in sight. Also be sure to keep considerable distance between yourself and wildlife, regardless of perceived risk.

Justice Allen also said Arizonans should keep their pets and livestock animals updated on their rabies shots.

It’s not just about preventing the initial infection, she said. Animals that may be infected have to be quarantined.

If the pet does not have a current vaccine, they could be quarantined for up to  six months. If they are vaccinated, that time can go down to 45 days.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department asks anyone who believes they’ve encountered wildlife that may be rabid to call the agency at 602-942-3000.

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Arizona wildlife officials warn about rabies threat as temperatures rise