Drought attracts skunks, increases rabies outbreak

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - With 5 months still left in 2011, the number of rabies cases is at an extreme high. In 2010, the state reported 387 rabies cases. This year, already, Texas has seen 591 cases of rabies reported. For the most part, those rabies cases are coming from skunks.

Carol Lee, the founder of the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, says this year's drought has forced skunks to venture into parts they normally wouldn't.

"They're thirsty, and they're hungry and they come to residential yards and properties looking for food," Lee said.

The drought has taken away much of the water sources skunks rely on. In their desperation, they can turn aggressive and sometimes bite one another. According to Christine Mann, with the Texas Department of State Health Services, that is what spreads the rabies.

"We're seeing a higher than usual number of animal rabies cases in Texas, if you compare this to last year," Mann said.

None of the reported rabies cases were out of Lubbock, however, 6 of the cases were from Hale County. All of those were skunks.

"We encroach with new housing developments onto what was their space, in many parts of the state, and they have no where to go," Lee said.

Experts say it's important that residents be aware of the statistics.

"There is an increase in rabies, and (people need to) take precautions to protect themselves from exposure," Mann said.

Mann says people should avoid wild animals, especially if they are behaving strangely. She also warns pet owners to keep their family pets up to date on their rabies vaccination. Finally, she says to always keep pet food, inside your home overnight.

"I always give rabies a big healthy does of respect," Lee said.

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