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Rabies on the rise in Bowman

Bowman residents have been asked by the North Dakota Department of Health to take precautions against rabies, after it found three animals near the town that tested positive for the disease.

"When we look at the positive animals that come across and get reported to us, they are mostly sporadic cases. Having this many in such a period of time was alarming to us," said Michelle Feist, an epidemiologist for the Department of Health Division of Disease Control in Bismarck.

Feist said Friday that one skunk tested positive in the last week of November. The Department of Health confirmed another skunk and an unvaccinated dog had rabies in the last week of December.

In the last six years, 16 animals from Bowman County were sent in to be tested for rabies, with two testing positive. Feist said three were sent in this year, not counting the two in December.

Bowman County is the only county to see an increase in cases.

Abandoned buildings are prime habitats for wild animals to nest in, said Phil Mastrangelo, the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services state director from Bismarck. He added the unusually mild winter weather may have contributed to the increase of skunks seen in Bowman County.

"In late November, (skunks and raccoons) become inactive and they stay that way throughout the winter."

Mastrangelo said the Wildlife Services is increasing its surveillance of skunks in Bowman County.

The case of the unvaccinated dog stresses the importance of vaccinating pets, Feist said, and getting rabies is "100 percent preventable" if a person or animal receive pre-exposure shots.

Dickinson veterinarian John Rowe said owners should get their pets vaccinated. Pets can get a one- or three-year vaccine.

"If you suspect that your animal has rabies, handle it with care," he said. "Just make sure your animals are immunized."

Rowe said owners should look for a sudden change in temperament. Animals may not show signs for up to 10 to 14 days after it has been bitten.

Suspected domestic animals should be quarantined for 10 days. Any animals that have rabies should be humanely destroyed and sent to the Department of Health.

"We want to prevent human infection," Feist said, Human shots can cost between $2,000 and $7,000.

The average cost of an animl rabies vaccine is $25.