Watch out for rabies when enjoying country life

Asignificant part of the "country" life is being next to nature. The opportunity to see wildlife every day is something that most of us enjoy. However, we need to remember that these are wild animals and they can cause problems.

Living in the country brings about certain responsibilities that we, as the intelligent species, have to remember. Wildlife is wild and will bite, scratch and do whatever it might feel it needs to do to preserve life and limb. Good thing is that usually they run first and avoid conflict at all costs if possible.

Milam County is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. Deer, raccoon, fox, bobcat and coyote are some of the more prevalent wildlife critters that exist throughout the county. These are all interesting and fun to look at, but can be deadly if touched. This is especially true for skunks and raccoons.

Rabies is a major disease that can be transmitted from ani- mal to man. All mammals are susceptible to rabies. Although rare, rabies has been diagnosed in deer, cattle and pigs. Rabies is quite common in skunks and raccoons.

In Central Texas skunks and bats are the top carriers of rabies. During the time period of January 1 through June 30, there were 49 cases of rabies confirmed in bats and 40 cases confirmed in skunks. Other cases confirmed in Central Texas during this same time frame included 5 cases in raccoons, 3 cases in cats, 2 dog cases, 2 cases in foxes, 1 bobcat case and 1 case in a coyote. Milam County had one case in a raccoon confirmed during this period.

Confirmed cases for 2009 are lagging behind 2008 cases. To date a total of 103 cases across the 30 counties that comprise the Health Service Region 7, compared to 405 cases reported during the year of 2008 in the same region. From 1958 through 2009 there have been a total 33,566 confirmed cases of rabies in Texas.

Now one might think that the majority of cases would come from rural counties in the state. However, the more populous counties like Harris, Travis, Tarrant and Dallas tend to have higher cases of confirmed rabies. This is because there are many more people in these counties and therefore more sightings of suspect animals.

Learning the natural habits of wildlife will help you avoid getting exposed to rabies. A good example is skunks. Skunks are nocturnal. If you see a skunk out in the middle of the day be alert to the fact that this is not normal behavior for this animal. The same goes for raccoons who are also primarily nocturnal animals.

Do not handle dead or dying animals without proper protection. If you see an animal behaving aggressively or exhibiting any other abnormal behaviors avoid the animal. If you do kill an animal that you suspect to have rabies be sure to cause as little damage to the head as possible.

You can contact the Milam County Health Department to report suspected cases of rabies and for information on collecting the animal for evaluation. It is important that suspected animals be tested to maintain statistics on where and when confirmed cases of rabies occur.

Contact the Health Department at 254-697-7039. You may also contact the Milam County Sheriff's office at 254-697-7033 or local city Animal Control Offi- cers for assistance in collecting suspected animals.

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