Rabies cases double in Oakland County's wildlife; officials warn, 'Stay away!'
A dead skunk found in West Bloomfield has tested positive for rabies, health authorities announced Thursday.
The find is the latest in a string of 15 rabies-infected animals verified this year by Oakland County health officials -- nearly double the eight that were found by this time in 2018.
"Certainly the number of cases this year is a concern but also because many of these were found close to each other" in residential areas, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter.
Rabid skunks can pose a greater risk to the public than rabid bats because they're ground-based animals more likely to interact with people and pets. (Photo: bobloblaw, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
In a warning emailed to the media Thursday, county officials urged residents to "stay away from wild animals such as skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, and stray cats and dogs."
Tests found the rabies virus in four bats and eleven skunks in Oakland County. In Southfield alone there were five skunks, all in the area between Southfield and Greenfield roads, and north of 10 mile while just south and east of Lathrup Village.
The latest find was a dead skunk found in the square-mile area bounded by Maple Road on the north, 14 Mile to the south, Farmington Road on the east and Drake Road to the west.
"Rabies is a fatal disease and there is no known cure, so the best protection is to avoid contact with stray, wild and dead animals," said Leigh-Anne Stafford, health officer for Oakland County.
Macomb County has turned up just one rabies-infected animal so far in 2019 -- a bat found earlier this year -- compared with four infected bats last year, said Dr. Kevin Lokar, medical officer.
"So we're not seeing the increase that Oakland County is seeing," Dr. Lokar said Thursday.
Wayne County also had just one case in wildlife verified so far this year, and the county in many years has no cases reported, said Dr. Ruta Sharanhgpani, medical director.
Statewide, far more bats are found infected with rabies than skunks. As of July, Michigan public health officials said they had verified nearly 2½ times as many rabid bats this year as in 2017.
Most of the confirmed infected bats come from the metro Detroit and Lansing areas, but infected bats found this year "are spread out across the Lower Peninsula," said Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife veterinarian Dan O'Brien. The two infected skunks came from Oakland County, he told the Free Press in July.
Public health experts can't say yet whether the increased findings of infected animals means a greater prevalence of rabies this year, or whether it's simply the result of Michiganders being more diligent about submitting animals suspected to have rabies.
Humans or their pets can get rabies from the saliva of an infected animal, from bites or scratches. Rabies is not spread through a skunk's spray, experts say. Pets are best protected by keeping them vaccinated and preventing encounters with wildlife and other "unfamiliar animals," Stafford said.
Michigan law requires that dogs and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies; and it's advised for cats. "Vaccination is important for keeping your pet from getting rabies, but it also provides a barrier of protection for you if a wild animal bites your pet," according to a state website.
Here are answers to key questions about rabies:
What is rabies? Rabies is a virus that can infect the brain of humans, domestic, and wild animals. If left untreated, it is nearly always fatal.
What are the symptoms? Early symptoms are fever, headaches, fatigue, anxiety and symptoms around a bite (pain, tingling, numbness). Later symptoms include trouble swallowing, fear of water (hydrophobia), paralysis, seizure, coma, and eventual death.
How long after a bite do symptoms begin? It may take weeks, months, or even a year to get sick after exposure, depending on the size and severity of the wound, distance from the brain and the amount of virus entering the wound.
What animals carry rabies? Animals most often affected are bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. Domesticated cats and dogs are occasionally found to be rabid. In general, smaller animals -- squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats, hamsters and rabbits -- are not considered carriers of the virus because they are too small to survive a rabid animal attack.
How can you avoid getting rabies? Don't handle stray or wild animals, even if tame or sickly. Instead, call your area's animal control office. But, if bitten, wash the wound immediately with soap and warm water for a full five minutes -- a response considered the most effective prevention against rabies; then seek professional medical care. Get regular vaccinations for cats and dogs.And if your pet is bitten by a wild animal, get advice from a vet.
Need more information? Visit www.oakgov.com/health and https://bit.ly/2BlZntWContact: [email protected] Staff writers Christina Hall and Keith Matheny contributed to this report.
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