The resurgence of rabies cases occurs in cycles, and Kansas currently is in a peak period of infestation, according to officials with Kansas State University and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
Deborah Briggs, assistant professor in KSU's department of veterinary diagnosis, said the prevalence of rabies has increased every five to seven years since 1964.
"It relates to the skunk population," she said. "When the skunk population increases, rabies increases. It definitely looks like we're in the part of the cycle when it increases."
Eventually, the virus will kill off much of the skunk population, and it won't appear as frequently until the animals repopulate, she said, adding that skunks and bats are the two main carriers of rabies in Kansas.
Since Dec. 27, rabies has been confirmed in a cow, a skunk and a dog in Douglas County and a skunk on the Jefferson-Douglas county border. Briggs said 22 cases of rabies in animals have been confirmed in the state so far this year, and all but one were in the northeast area. Last year, 63 cases of rabies in animals were confirmed in the state, and three people in the United States were infected with rabies.
BRIGGS said a vaccine can be administered to people who contract rabies. "It's no longer 21 shots in the stomach," she said, but it costs about $1,000.
Greg Olmsted, director of environmental health at the local health department, said a wild animal can communicate rabies three to 10 days before it displays any symptoms of the illness, but the period of time in which rabies can be spread after symptoms are evident is unknown.
Olmsted said the rabid dog in Douglas County was diagnosed with the illness two weeks after a dead skunk was found in its pen.
"We still recommend to avoid all contact with unknown animals, including unknown dogs and cats," he said. "All dogs and cats should be vaccinated, and don't keep wild animals as pets."
SYMPTOMS of rabies vary, but Briggs said to look out for a sudden change in a pet's behavior. Dogs normally exhibit "dumb" or paralytic rabies and an altered personality, she said, while cats normally exhibit "furious" rabies, becoming vicious and aggressive.
Skunks infected with rabies will wander during the daytime, appear disoriented and frequently eat dirt, she said. People shouldn't handle or pick up strange-acting or sick animals, domestic or wild, and should report them to the police or sheriff's office.