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As cases increase, Oklahoma health officials urge caution over rabies

As cases increase, Oklahoma health officials urge caution over rabies

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Along with skunks, bats rank among the most likely species in the state to be carrying rabies. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t raise much alarm for a couple of infected bats to show up near Bell Cow Lake in central Oklahoma.

This year, however, has seen a rise in the number of rabies cases among animals that don’t usually carry the disease, including domesticated livestock that can have close contact with humans. That’s why the state Health Department recently issued a public caution after a second infected bat in six weeks turned up near Bell Cow Lake in Lincoln County, an hour southwest of Tulsa.

“Oklahoma is seeing more cases of rabies in the state this year than previous years,” said state public health veterinarian LeMac’ Morris.

“With more sightings of skunks and bats, this is the perfect time to remind pet owners about the importance of vaccinating family pets, and even livestock.”

Oklahoma veterinarians have noticed more cases of rabies this year among cattle, sheep, horses and other barnyard animals.

And while it’s rare for livestock to transmit the virus to humans, “the risk is always present,” said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, an assistant clinical professor at Oklahoma State University and director of continuing education for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We need to think about animals that are kept in stables and barns,” Biggs said, “and show animals that are going to be around people.”

Domesticated animals of all types should be vaccinated for rabies, and any human or pet that comes into contact with a wild bat or skunk should be checked for the disease, the state Health Department said.

Infected animals often begin acting strangely or aggressively, but not always. An infected animal might instead appear very tame, officials said.

Likewise, some infected animals will not exhibit the classic symptom of foaming at the mouth, officials said. Animals can also transmit rabies days before showing any symptoms.

Both infected bats at Bell Cow Lake, north of Chandler, were found acting erratically on the ground.

Across the United States, more than 20,000 people a year receive post-exposure rabies shots after coming into contact with a rabid or possibly rabid animal.

For an evaluation of rabies risk or guidance on a suspected rabies case, residents can contact the Oklahoma Department of Health’s Acute Disease Service at (405) 271-4060.


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Michael Overall

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