Cow Dies of Rabies in Madison County

Cow Dies of Rabies in Madison County

State health officials suspect the animal had been bitten by a skunk.
A cow has died of rabies in Northwest Arkansas.

That's according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), which says the beef cow died last week near Kingston, in Madison County.

The cow is believed to have "undoubtedly got infected by a bite from a rabid skunk, probably 4-12 weeks prior to showing any symptoms," according to an ADH news release.

The release also states:

Rabies is not transmitted to people through cooked beef or pasteurized milk. Pasteurization and cooking will kill the rabies virus, therefore inadvertently drinking of pasteurized milk or eating thoroughly cooked animal products does not constitute a rabies exposure.

Rabies in Arkansas is most often found in skunks. Reports of cattle being infected with rabies are uncommon, but in 2012 there were three in Arkansas. This is the first one reported for 2013, but we have already had 14 skunks and one dog test positive as well.

Susan Weinstein, DVM, Arkansas Public Health veterinarian, said that the presence of rabies in one animal in the area is a warning sign. “What we know is that when we find a cow or a skunk with rabies in a local area, there are usually more rabid skunks in the wild that will never be discovered,” Weinstein said. “That puts the local animal population at risk, especially dogs, cats and livestock.”

Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats and foxes. Cats, dogs and livestock can also develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated. Arkansas averages 47 rabid animals each year, but in 2012, we nearly tripled that amount. Last year there were 131 rabies positive animals, including 101 skunks, 22 bats, three dogs, one cat, one pony and three cattle.

The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose. 

Domestic animals may become exposed during normal grazing or roaming. Occasionally, rabid wild animals, especially skunks, will enter barns, paddocks and lots. Livestock are often exposed when they investigate this new animal in their surroundings. The main symptom is unusual behavior, which gradually leads to depression or partial paralysis. Cows typically develop a hoarse bellow. Drooling and abnormal swallowing may make them appear to have something caught in their throats. Some animals may only show depression and weakness, or partial paralysis, of the hindquarters. During the course of several hours to a few days, the animal will go down, develop convulsive seizures and die. Sheep have symptoms similar to cattle and sometimes vigorously pull their wool. The disease is often seen in more than one sheep in a flock because the animals stay close together and several can be easily bitten at one time. Goats with rabies are often aggressive and bleat continuously. Horses tend to contract the paralytic form of the disease and may initially show abnormal postures with wobbliness of the hindquarters, frequent whinnying, unexplained aggressiveness (with kicking and biting) and signs of colic. They may also show lameness in one leg, followed by an inability to rise the next day.

Rabid skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is unusual behavior for skunks, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house. An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals—especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.

If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician and county health unit immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further exposure.

All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. This not only protects the animal, but also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, as our pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than we are. Horses and livestock also should be vaccinated against rabies, especially in areas known to have rabid skunks. Children especially should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets.

If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. Since there are no known time intervals for the length of infectivity in other animals, the brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred. 

What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
  • Be sure your dogs and cats are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations
  • Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals
  • Keep family pets indoors at night
  • Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter (The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.)
  • Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them
  • Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well
  • Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the local health unit. Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.
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