The rabid raccoon discovered in a front yard in Dripping Springs the week of Thanksgiving was just one of 25 animals with the disease found in the county so far this year.
According to a report from the State Department of Health Services, so far this year, 21 bats, one skunk and three “others” from Hays County have tested positive for the deadly viral disease.
Defined by the Centers for Disease Control rabies is a “fatal, but preventable” disease transmitted primarily through the saliva of infected animals, as in a bite.
Hays County has a high, though mainly seasonal, population of bats and that is the species most likely to turn up rabid in Texas, though it also turns up regularly in skunks, foxes, raccoons, dogs and cats and even coyotes. Rarely, it occurs in larger mammals like cattle and horses.
Also called “hydrophobia” because the disease makes swallowing a substance like water painful, rabies can occur in all mammals. The disease is particularly dangerous because the virus has to travel to the brain before it causes symptoms. That incubation period, the CDC says, may last for weeks to months and can vary according to what area of the body was bitten.
Initial symptoms can be similar to the flu – general weakness, discomfort, fever, headache – that can persist for days. Later may come discomfort at the site of the bite, “progressing within days to acute symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion and agitation,” the CDC says. Symptoms in humans may progress to delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, the touted fear of water and insomnia.
“The acute period of disease typically ends after 2 to 10 days,” the CDC says. “Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal.” To date, fewer than 20 cases of human survival have been documented.
Symptoms are similar in animals.
State law dictates that all dogs or cats be vaccinated by the age of 16 weeks. Annual vaccinations used to be required, but according to the Texas Administrative Code, “The attending veterinarian has discretion as to when the subsequent vaccination will be scheduled as long as the revaccination due date does not exceed the recommended interval for future vaccination as established by the manufacturer or vaccination requirements instituted by local ordinance.”
Though a few weeks in this year remain, 2019 is on track for far fewer positive cases than in recent years. In 2018, for example, there were 61 confirmed cases – 60 in bats and one in a cat. The year before that, Hays County saw 30 confirmed cases – one skunk, two foxes and 27 bats.
Rabid wild animals may lose their fear of humans. People are advised to notify authorities of any wild animal or unvaccinated pet behaving strangely, and are warned never to touch a bat found on the ground.
To report a suspected case of rabies, call county animal control at 512-393-7896 and/or the state’s zoonosis control at 5112-778-6744.