Pope County continued to lead the state in the number of reported rabies cases with 12, while the statewide total for animal rabies reports rose to 84 from 55 a month ago, the Arkansas Department of Health reported last Wednesday.
Skunks accounted for 79 of the 84 rabies reports. There were two dogs with infections and one each for a bat, cow and horse.
According to the May 1 map, Johnson County had eight cases, while Yell and Garland each had seven. Counties new to the list were Saline and Hot Spring counties, each with two cases; and Howard, Jefferson and Polk, with one case each.
For all of 2012, there were 131 reported cases of rabies, with 101 of those being skunks. The last time there were that many cases in a year was in 2002, with 131 cases reported.
There are a variety of reasons for the sharp increase.
"We do not know why we are seeing such an increase last year and this," Susan Weinstein, state public health veterinarian, said, adding that "rabies does have a natural cycle so that there is a rise in cases every seven to 10 years, then a decrease. We can assume this is part of that cycle, but much higher than normal."
Other possibilities include a higher level of public awareness resulting in more reports being submitted.
"So if we get more submissions of suspiciously acting skunks, we are bound to get more positives," Weinstein said.
Skunks represent the bulk of the animals testing positive for rabies this year. Weinstein said skunks and bats are the main reservoirs for rabies in Arkansas.
The last human case of rabies in Arkansas was in 2004. None have been reported this year.
Dustan Clark, extension veterinarian for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, reminded Arkansans about a few ways to protect themselves from rabies.
• Make sure children know not to approach wild animals or pets they do not know.
• If you feed your pets outdoors, retrieve their food 30 minutes after putting it out.
• Confine your pets to keep them safe from wild animals.
• Do not keep wild animals as pets.
• Do not approach odd-acting animals, such as bats and skunks out in the daytime. Report odd-acting animals to your local animal control office, the sheriff’s department, or your local county health unit environmental health specialist.
• Seek medical attention for any bite.
• Be sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies.
For more information, contact your county extension office, local veterinarian or county health unit.