Early Cases of Rabies Are Showing Up in Skunks
unusually mild winter is fueling a rabies outbreak among skunks in southern
Arizona, and one expert said it’s only a matter of time before the problem
begins in northern Arizona.
are active during the summer and fall, and then they go into winter dens,” said
Tad Theimer, vertebrate biologist and NAU Associate Professor. “During a warm
winter, more skunks survive. They also move around a lot more and spread
rabid skunks have been found in Pima and Santa Cruz counties so far this year,
according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Only 17 rabid skunks
were found in those counties in all of 2013. “That’s a huge leap,” said Laura
Oxley, a spokeswoman for the agency.
County officials last week issued an alert for hikers who came near a rabid
skunk at a trailhead. While skunks are nocturnal, this one was out at noontime.
“The skunk plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk, unafraid of passers-by,”
said Michael Fink, an epidemiologist with the Arizona Department of Health
a skunk believed to have rabies bites or scratches someone, they are at risk
for infection, Fink said. The treatment is a series of four shots over 21 days.
said rabies outbreaks among skunks also are driven by the creatures preferring
developed areas where they can pinch pet food and, an even bigger draw, bird
feed. “If you ask a skunk, they will always choose the city,” he said.
around bird feeders and other urban food sources – and also fighting over the
food and mates – allows skunks to spread the disease, Theimer said. Where’s
there is food, the creatures find a home. Skunks choose to establish dens in
home foundations because they are warm and protect against the elements.
homes popular in Flagstaff are like an “apartment complex for skunks,” Theimer
said. “They all hang out together and increase the likelihood they’ll infect each
other,” he said.
keep away their cohabiters Flagstaff residents can fill their foundations with
concrete or block openings with wire mesh and reinforce it with rocks to
prevent the animals from burrowing underneath, Theimer said. A small fence around
bird feeders helps prevent late night skunk dinner parties, and other pet foods
shouldn’t be left outside after sunset, he added.
--Brittany Elena Morris, Cronkite News