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Potential rabies exposure in ND county; Health Department urges people to take precautions to decrease the risk of rabies

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is notifying the public that a skunk in Kidder County tested positive for rabies. The skunk was exterminated after attacking a domestic cat in the town of Pettibone on June 30. Earlier that day, a skunk was reported to be acting aggressively toward people in Pettibone.

“Although we can’t be sure it was the same skunk,” said Laura Cronquist, epidemiologist with the NDDoH, “there is cause for concern anytime a skunk acts aggressively and is within city limits of a community.” Skunks serve as the primary carrier of rabies in North Dakota.

Although the NDDoH is not aware of any exposure to people from the skunk or skunks, they are reminding individuals that if they are attacked or bitten by a skunk they need to call their health care provider as soon as possible and notify the NDDoH. If people have pets that have fought or otherwise interacted with a skunk, they should call their veterinarian as soon as possible.

“Situations like this reinforce the need to vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies and to double check your records to make sure the vaccination is current,” said Cronquist.

The virus is most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies can also be transmitted if saliva or nervous system tissue from a rabid animal enters open cuts and wounds or the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus attacks the nervous system and causes swelling of the brain. There is no treatment and rabies is nearly always fatal.

The NDDoH and North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) recommend taking the following precautions to decrease the risk of rabies:

· Keep dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses up to date on vaccinations for rabies. Your veterinarian can advise you on current vaccination recommendations.

· Try to keep stray animals and wildlife, especially skunks, away from pets and livestock.

· Do not leave exposed garbage or pet food outside, as this may attract wild or stray animals to your home or yard.

· Do not approach unfamiliar or wild animals.

· Learn how to prevent animal bites, especially to children. Teach children never to handle or approach unknown animals without permission from a parent or guardian and the animal’s owner.

· Report stray animals or animals acting unusually to local animal control.

· Bat-proof your home to prevent bats from nesting inside and having access to people or pets.

· Do not keep wild animals as pets. It is unlawful in North Dakota to keep a raccoon or a skunk as a pet.

· Avoid contact with animals while traveling, especially internationally.

For additional information about animal rabies activity in North Dakota, please visit the NDDoH website at www.health.nd.gov/diseases-conditions/rabies. For more information on rabies or to report a potential rabies exposure, please contact the NDDoH Division of Disease Control at 701-328-2378 or 800-472-2180 or the NDDA Animal Health Division at 701-328-2655.

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