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Good weather sees rabies cases way down

Rabies cases are down significantly this year around Arizona, a drop officials attribute in part to aggressive steps to control the virus in wildlife, favorable weather and diseased animals dying off.

Rabies had been a growing problem, particularly pockets of Pima, Coconino, and Santa Cruz counties. Last year it peaked at 280 confirmed cases, more than 100 higher than 2008.

So far this year there have been 83 confirmed cases statewide, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Craig Levy, vector-borne disease director for the department, said the rabies population most likely had been building for the past few years but now has settled back to a normal level.

"Right now, 2010, we are having what I would consider more of an average rabies year," Levy said. "I mean it looks like a wonderful year compared to last year, but in truth it actually pretty normal levels."

Stephen Everett, county epidemiologist for Yavapai County, said that the low numbers are the result of rabies running its course in the wildlife population. In short, the diseased animals have died.

"It normally does that; it's cyclical," Everett said.

Yavapai County has seen its number of confirmed cases drop from 15 last year to three so far this year.

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Coconino County Health Department Director Barbara Worgess credits aggressive steps for a decline in rabies cases from 35 last year to just one so far this year.

Those steps include a quarantine for the greater Flagstaff area during June that required all pets to be on a leash or confined to their owners' properties. The quarantine extended into this month for certain areas.

The county also required rabies vaccinations for cats and dogs, mandated that pet food be kept indoors and banned outdoor bird feeders.

Over the last three months the county has air-dropped tens of thousands of rabies vaccine packets into the wilderness in hopes that gray foxes, which are prone to rabies, would get immunized by eating them.

The county has also trapped, immunized and released skunks, another common rabies carrier, in order to decrease the infected population.

"I can tell you it's been a profound impact," Levy said of Coconino County's approach to the problem.

Levy said that other factors such as drought, which brings animal populations close together seeking limited water, can help spread rabies. He said a better monsoon season and more snowfall in the Flagstaff area last year may have helped spread out the wildlife.

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U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

A gray fox is shown in this U.S. Bureau of Reclamation photo. Rabies cases are down significantly so far this year, and officials say efforts to prevent the spread of rabies in gray foxes, shunks and other species at greatest risk for the virus deserve part of the credit. Favorable weather and diseased creatures dying off also have helped, officials say.


Rabies cases by county

  • Apache: 0 (2009 total: 0)
  • Cochise: 13 (2009 total: 39)
  • Coconino 1 (2009 total: 35)
  • Gila: 2 (2009 total: 7)
  • Graham: 0 (2009 total: 0)
  • Greenlee: 0 (2009 total: 3)
  • La Paz 0 (2009 total: 1)
  • Maricopa: 7 (2009 total: 13)
  • Mohave: 1 (2009 total: 0)
  • Navajo: 2 (2009 total: 0)
  • Pima: 22 (2009 total: 86)
  • Pinal: 7 (2009 total: 11)
  • Santa Cruz: 24 (2009 total: 70)
  • Yavapai: 3 (2009 total: 15)
  • Yuma: 1 (2009 total: 0)