• December 27, 2014

With growing rabies cases, be careful, not fearful, officials say

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Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 4:30 am

With six cases of rabies identified across Fort Hood since May, officials said people should be cautious, but not fearful.

Rabies is a cyclical disease, so an increase in reported instances can be expected, said Amber Preston Dankert, supervisor of wildlife management for Fort Hood’s Directorate of Public Works’ natural resources.

Rabid animals have been found all across post over the past three months, to include the golf course and a housing area. Confirmed infected animals were three bats, a feral cat, a raccoon and a skunk.

Fort Hood, like many other cities, must deal with wildlife that live in the areas surrounding the human population. Of the three rabid bats reported on post, two of them were found in the same public works motorpool, which boasts an estimated 3,000 bats living in it.

“That does sound significant, but in reality it’s really not,” Dankert said. “We’ve done a lot of training with the personnel specifically at that building.”

Only about 1 percent of the bat population is believed to be rabid, Dankert said. Many people have asked about removing the bats, but she said their presence is beneficial to everyone — and protected under state law.

“A healthy, nursing mother bat can eat about 4,500 insects in one night. That’s beneficial ecologically, environmentally and financially,” she said.

The increased reporting and awareness has led to more calls to Fort Hood police.

“Typically speaking, as the game warden, we get a lot of animal calls, but we’ve seen a slight increase because of what we call the ‘rabies scare,’” said Al Langford, chief game warden at Fort Hood.

When post residents call the military police about wild animals acting strangely, which they are encouraged to do, the police contact one of the seven game wardens at Fort Hood to respond.

If a potentially rabid animal is found and came into contact with a human, Langford said they will coordinate with the Veterinary Center to have the animal tested and treat the person who was exposed appropriately.

Dankert said people should avoid feeding wild animals or providing a water source. This will send them elsewhere and reduce the chance of coming into contact with rabies.

“It’s not just a Fort Hood problem,” Langford said. “An eighth of Texas (is seeing the) problem.”

Within the 30 counties that make up Central Texas, 249 animals have tested positive for rabies, said Chris Van Deusen, Austin-based spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Last year, a total of 417 cases were reported.

“It’s so complex, as with many communicable diseases. It’s hard to pinpoint why (the numbers) go up and down, but they do,” he said.

“Anywhere that you have people interacting with wild animals, there’s a possibility to get reports of rabies,” Van Deusen said.

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