The number of animal rabies cases in Kansas have nearly tripled the first three months of 2015 compared to the comparable period last year prompting calls for awareness in the Sunflower State.

Image/Collins John, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, or KSVDL, said there were 28 positive rabies cases from January through March of this year, up from 10 positives for the same three months in 2014. The laboratory tests  suspected cases of rabies in the state.

The vast majority of the cases were seen in skunks (23), while the remainder were seen in cats (3) a cow and a fox.

KSVDL laboratorian, Rolan Davis noted, “Rabies is always around. If we see a jump in cases, we feel it’s our duty to let people know and urge them to take steps to protect themselves and their pets should an infected animal wander into their backyard.”

“We are always cautious when reporting increased positive results because we don’t want to ‘cry wolf,'” Mike Moore, veterinarian and project manager of the KSVDL said. “But one quarter into the year, we have thus far seen nearly three times more positives.”

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Although worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually,human rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States, which averages  less than five human rabies cases annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.