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Rabies outbreak troubling to officials

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2019 12:00 pm

With a fifth confirmed case of rabies reported in and around Bandera County this year and another possible case under investigation, law enforcement and animal control officials are ratcheting up the urgency of their calls to get pets vaccinated against the disease and to take other precautions to combat the outbreak.

“Right now, there are a lot more cases of rabies than we normally see at this time of year,” said Dr. Conrad Nightingale, the rabies control officer in Bandera County.  “We’re in a serious situation at this time, and we just can’t ignore it.”

Bandera County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Matt King agreed that the confirmed rabies count was higher than normal this year.

He reported that a sixth possible case of a rabid animal came in on Sunday, June 30, when an animal, which he believed was a racoon, was taken down off Old San Antonio Highway in Bandera when it displayed odd behavior, including being out during daylight hours.

That animal has been sent off to the state for testing, but the results were not in earlier this week. Still with the high number of rabies cases already confirmed, King felt it was “definitely something to be cautious about.”

 The fourth and fifth cases of rabid animals involved a racoon killed in the 1400 lock of Highway 16 North in Bandera that tested positive for rabies on Wednesday, June 26, and a fox that was confirmed as being rabid on about that same day after being taken down on Snake Road.

Snake Road is just across the Bandera County line in Kerr County, but it can be accessed only through Bandera County and is an area that Bandera County officials regularly respond to.

Nightingale said rabies has become a problem not just in Bandera County but the whole region.  It has struck earlier than it normally does this year and has been distributed across a broader area than normal rather than being concentrated in one area.

“That’s one of the biggest concerns.  We’re seeing positives everywhere,” said Nightingale, a veterinarian with the Hill Country Veterinary Hospital and Equine Center.

The first three cases in the county involved a racoon that was killed in the area of the Flying L Ranch Resort on April 23, a fox that was shot after it reportedly attacked a kitten on Lakeshore Drive in the Wharton’s Dock area on May 23 and another racoon killed on June 1 after being seen acting strangely in the 300 block of Diana Drive.

Officials have been encouraging pet owners to make sure their pets are vaccinated against the deadly viral disease since the first two cases were confirmed.

Officials at veterinary clinics said the number of rabies vaccines has increased in recent month, but Nightingale said the increase probably has not been as large as officials would want.

So officials are planning to hold a vaccination clinic to provide pet owners with a simple way to get animals inoculated for rabies, distemper and other diseases at a reasonable price.  Nightingale said officials are likely to hold it at the True Value Hardware store in Bandera in a little more than a week, though the details are still being worked out.

A second vaccine clinic may follow the first one if the problem continues to grow.

Sandra Schott, the county’s animal control liaison officer, said horses are among the animals that need to be vaccinated against the disease along with dogs, cats and other pets.

Puppies and kittens normally aren’t vaccinated until they are three months old, so they should never be outside unattended, Schott said.

Officials urged area residents to be extremely cautious around all wild animals and to quit providing food to feral cats and other animals outside that may attract wild animals, including some that may be rabid.

More people become at risk of contracting the disease if rabid animals are drawn closer to homes.  Humans can get injections to counteract the disease, but it can be a fairly expensive treatment, Nightingale said. 

He also said reports had suggested that a shortage of the vaccine given to humans has started to arise worldwide.

Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system that can lead to a disease in the brain and death.  The vast majority of the cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year are in racoons, skunks, foxes and other wild animals.

The sheriff’s department urges people to be on the lookout for wild animals that are acting unusually.  When such sightings are made, residents are instructed to call dispatchers at 830-796-3771 or 9-1-1 if it’s an emergency.

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