A rabies outbreak in Eddy County has state and local health officials across eastern New Mexico urging caution.
While there are no confirmed cases in Curry or Roosevelt counties so far this year, the outbreak may be related to drought conditions, according to State Public Health Veterinarian Paul Ettestad.
“Drought conditions are driving wildlife closer to urban areas in search of water and food,” Ettestad said.
“Thirty-two dogs have been euthanized and eight people are being treated for rabies in Eddy county.”
Ettestad said 25 skunks, one fox and one dog have tested positive in the county.
Rabies is spread to pets through the bite of infected wildlife such as skunks, foxes and bats, which are the main culprits in New Mexico. An infected pet can put an entire family at risk Ettestad said.
Clovis Veterinarian Jack Murphy attributed Curry County’s low incidence of rabies, in part, to a decreased population of feral dog packs, which were a problem in the 1970’s and 80’s.
“I remember we had three or four confirmed cases in the county back then,” Murphy said. “Joggers used to carry sticks or canes because they were afraid of being attacked.”
“It costs about $20 to get your pet vaccinated and it’s not only a city ordinance, it’s a state law,” Murphy said.
City and state laws require all cats and dogs over the age of three months to receive a yearly rabies vaccination and a certificate of vaccination.
“I can say, to my pride, New Mexico was one of the first states to require the vaccine by law,” Murphy said.
A three-year rabies vaccine has been developed for pets and is available upon request, Murphy said.
Rabies has an incubation period of one to three months. When symptoms appear, “it’s too late,” Ettestad said. “The disease is 100 percent fatal.”
“When people think of rabies, they usually think of crazed animals running around,” Murphy said. “But that’s not necessarily the case.”
Murphy explained that in the case of dumb rabies, infected animals may appear sedate until approached.
“If you don’t know the animal, stay away from it,” Murphy advised. “If you are bitten by an animal, and it draws blood, go to the emergency room.”
Rabies affects the central nervous system, causing the changes in behavior associated with the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website.
Treatment for exposed humans includes a rabies immune globulin injection at the site of the wound, followed by a series of rabies vaccinations, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Murphy, who is at high risk for rabies exposure, said he has been vaccinated with Human Diploid Vaccine.