Rabies cases at low record in South Dakota

Armen Hareyan's picture

In 2006, South Dakota reported its lowest number ever of animal rabies cases, says a Department of Health official.

Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist, said just 37 animals tested positive for rabies out of 645 submitted in 2006. That's the lowest case number since 1960, which is as far back as the department's rabies data goes.

In 2006, the wild rabid animals included 24 skunks and 2 bats. Eleven domestic animals tested positive and included 5 cats, 4 cattle, 1 horse, and 1 dog. There were no human rabies cases in South Dakota in 2006. The last human case was reported in the state in 1970.

The risk of rabies is statewide, with rabid animals reported from 24 counties. The common skunk is the primary rabies reservoir animal in South Dakota. Pets and livestock contract rabies when bitten by rabid skunks. Bats may also carry rabies in South Dakota.


"Infected wild animals can transmit rabies to pets or livestock, which can then expose humans," said Dr. Kightlinger. "That's why it's so important that people don't attempt to catch or handle wildlife, and that they avoid animals that are unusually tame, aggressive or paralyzed. It's important to remember that even docile-appearing wild animals can be rabid."

Safe and effective rabies vaccines are available for pets and some classes of livestock. State Veterinarian, Dr. Sam Holland urged owners to have all pets vaccinated annually due to the large rabies reservoir that exists in skunks in South Dakota. Dr. Holland also recommended annual vaccination for horses that are kept close to dwellings or used frequently by children. "It's impractical to vaccinate all livestock against rabies but it's a good idea to vaccinate livestock that are particularly valuable or in frequent contact with humans," said Dr. Holland.

The following suggestions can reduce the risk of rabies:

  • Vaccinate pet dogs and cats for rabies.
  • Do not handle, adopt, or attempt to feed wild animals. Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays or animals they don't know and to tell you immediately if they are bitten or scratched by any animal or if they encounter bats, particularly indoors.
  • Avoid any animal, wild or domestic, that behaves strangely and immediately report it to your local veterinarian, animal control, conservation, or law enforcement office.
  • Skunks and bats, rabies reservoir species, should not be used in school or petting zoo displays where direct contact with the public is possible.
  • Do not handle dead, sick or injured animals. If you must, use heavy gloves, sticks, or other tools to avoid direct contact. Farmers and ranchers should wear gloves and protective eyewear when treating sick animals to prevent exposure to saliva.
  • Close outdoor trash containers tightly to avoid attracting skunks and raccoons.
  • Clear wood or junk piles away from houses to discourage wild animals from moving in.
  • Do not handle bats. If bats are found in a room with small children or sleeping people, call the Department of Health, your physician, or your local animal control officer.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect rabies in any wild animal, pet, or livestock. Your veterinarian can give you the necessary advice on how to proceed.

In the event of a potential exposure to rabies, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and call your doctor or the Department of Health. Your veterinarian will instruct you as to handling of animals involved. If the animal is dead, save the carcass for laboratory examination, being careful not to damage the head. If the animal is alive, try to capture it for examination or observation but be sure to avoid further exposure. If the animal escapes, note its description for later identification. If people are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, human disease can be prevented by getting the rabies vaccination.

For more information about rabies control, call the Department of Health at 1-800-592-1861 or see the web at www.state.sd.us/doh/Pubs/rabies.htm.