NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665


November 5, 1998

Skunk Population Boom Increases Region's Rabies Risk

The risk of rabies is up this fall thanks to a population explosion among the region's skunks according to a North Dakota State University veterinarian.

"Everyone who has a dog or a cat should have that animal vaccinated," says Charlie Stoltenow of the NDSU Extension Service. "It's a real tragedy to lose a family pet to a disease that can be prevented."

Some livestock producers may want to take similar precautions, Stoltenow says. "If there are livestock such as breeding stock that you cannot afford to lose, remember that vaccinations are available for just about every species of domesticated animal." For pets, an initial vaccination is administered at three months and again in one year. Depending on the vaccine, boosters can be given at one- or three-year intervals after that.

The North Dakota Health Department has seen more than a 40-percent increase in animal rabies cases this year, and the NDSU diagnostic laboratory has documented rabies cases in elk and bisonsomething that's extremely rare

Stoltenow says, "Virtually all of those cases can be traced to skunks."

Skunks are the primary carrier of rabies in this region and Stoltenow says wildlife experts estimate that 400,000 skunks are born in an average year, but this year there may be up to three adult skunks per square mile.

"Tests indicate that up to 90 percent of skunks test positive for rabies." Stoltenow says. The best way to deal with skunks is to avoid them; however, skunks that frequent livestock pens, farmyards or populated areas may need to be destroyed.

Stoltenow urges livestock producers to be on alert for animals that act strangely and for unexplained livestock deaths. Consult a veterinarian in such cases and bury or burn dead animals.

"Remember that you don't need to be bitten to contract the rabies virus," he says. "It can be passed with saliva and other bodily fluids." That means any dead animals or animal that potentially carries the virus should be treated with care.

"If you think that you've been exposed to rabies, contact a doctor immediately," Stoltenow says. "Rabies in humans can be treated if treatment begins soon enough."

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Source: Charlie Stoltenow (701) 231-7522

Editor: Tom Jirik (701) 231-9629