Pope County has the highest number of rabid animal reports so far in 2013, its 11 cases constituting nearly a fourth of all cases reported as of April 2, according to figures from the state Health Department.

There were 55 cases reported in 20 counties. They are Pope County, 11, Cleburne County, 6, Johnson County, 6, Logan County, 4, Fulton County, 4, Yell County, 4, Conway County, 3, Garland County, 3, Scott County, 2, Franklin County, 2, Pulaski, Independence, Carroll, Madison, Washington, Boone, Sebastian, Van Buren, Pike, and Faulkner counties each with one case.

Most of the reported cases, 52, were skunks. For all of 2012, there were 131 reported cases of rabies, with 101 of those being skunks.

"In Arkansas, the natural reservoirs for the virus are skunks and bats," said Dustan Clark, extension veterinarian for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "The fox and raccoon variant of the virus have not been reported in Arkansas."

The last human case of rabies in Arkansas was in 2004. None have been reported this year.

"The disease, if untreated, is virtually 100 percent fatal, and is in fact, considered one of the world’s most fatal infectious diseases," said Susan Weinstein, state public health veterinarian. "Rabies in people is very rare in the United States, with one to two people dying from the disease each year, but worldwide, as many as 55,000 people still die from the disease each year."

Weinstein said these deaths usually occur in countries that do not have vaccination programs for dogs and cats.

According to Clark and Weinstein, protecting yourself and your loved ones – both human and otherwise – from rabies is of utmost importance, both for your own health and for public safety.

• Make sure your 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.

• Have your dogs and cats legally vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian. Vaccinations that you do yourself are not considered legal. State law requires all dogs and cats over four months of age to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.

• There are currently no licensed products for the vaccination of pigs, goats, captive wild animals, or most exotic pets.

• If you kill a wild animal you believe to be rabid, keep the head intact. Ask your local animal control officer or veterinarian about proper rabies testing methods. These tests require tissue samples from the brain of the deceased animal.

For more information, contact your county extension office, local veterinarian or county health unit.