GATESVILLE — An unusually heavy outbreak of skunk-borne rabies has hit Coryell County — Gatesville in particular — this spring.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported seven cases of rabies in the county between Jan. 1 and March 28 — more than all cases in the previous two years combined.
The city of Gatesville, which accounted for six of those reported cases, confirmed another on Wednesday.
“It is certainly unusual,” Police Chief Nathan Gohlke said. “It has been several years since we had a rabies outbreak like this.”
The last big outbreak was in 2002, when Coryell had 23 confirmed cases of rabies — 21 skunks and two bats, according to state health records. The year before, there were 18 cases in the county — 16 skunks and two bats.
Last year, there were only two cases of rabies in Coryell, both skunks. In 2011, two skunks, a cat and a goat were confirmed with rabies in the county.
McLennan County has had six rabies cases so far this year — five skunks and a cat. The county had only three rabies cases last year and five in 2011, according to state records.
Bell County has had three rabies cases so far this year — two skunks and a cat. Lampasas County has reported just one case, a skunk.
In each of the 2013 Gatesville cases, a skunk was reported to have had contact with a domestic animal, Gohlke said.
Each skunk was shot dead by an animal control officer, he said, and the head was sent to a state lab in Austin for testing that confirmed rabies.
Not every skunk destroyed by an animal control officer is tested, Gohlke said, only those that have had contact with a human or a domestic animal.
“We know the rabies virus is here so we tested all skunks that were in contact with pets,” Gohlke said. “The pets must be kept confined and kept away from people and other animals for 45 days.”
Four dogs, a cat and a goat exposed to the skunks are being confined by their owners, he said, and will be monitored by the state department of health services to determine if the animal was infected.
The dogs and the cat were vaccinated for rabies before the contact, Gohlke said. “There is not a rabies vaccination for goats.”
Rabies clinic coming up
By law, dogs and cats must be vaccinated for rabies by a veterinarian. Hard Bargain 4-H Club of Gatesville and Coryell Veterinary Clinic will sponsor a low-cost rabies clinic Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon in the parking lot of Tractor Supply at 2401 S. Texas Highway 36.
Rabies is a virus disease of the central nervous system that can be transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal or saliva of a rabid animal introduced into a fresh scratch or cut in the skin, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services website.
In Texas, rabies is primarily a disease of wild skunks, foxes, bats and raccoons, the department website stated.
People, particularly pet owners, should look out for wild animals that are behaving abnormally, Gohlke said.
“Skunks are nocturnal,” he said. “When they are stumbling around in the daytime, that is a warning sign.”
Anyone who sees a skunk or other wild animals behaving strangely should contact the local animal control officer, Gohlke said.
In Gatesville, call (254) 865-2226.