Pima County has had more cases of rabid animals this year than any other county, while Arizona is on track to set a record for the second consecutive year.
The Arizona Department of Health Services said 59 animals tested positive for rabies statewide this year.
Of those, 21 were in Pima County. Cochise and Coconino counties each had 13 cases.
Last year, 176 cases of rabies in animals were confirmed. The previous record of 169 cases was set in 2005.
Rabies causes acute swelling of the brain and is always fatal to untreated humans.
This year, 35 skunks, 21 foxes, one bobcat, one ringtail and one horse have tested positive for rabies, DHS said. Those animals exposed seven people and 39 pets to the viral disease.
Fifteen of the rabid skunks and six of the infected foxes were in Pima County, Pima County Health Department spokeswoman Patti Woodcock said, warning “Stay away from foxes and skunks.”
Rabid skunks are much more aggressive this season than in the past, Woodcock said.
Traditionally, skunks infected by rabies have behaved friendly or cuddly, she said. This year, they have been “charging, growling, snapping.”
“The manifestation is very different than what we were seeing in the past,” Woodcock said.
Most of the rabid skunks have been found in the northeast corner of Saguaro National Park, although the animal is common on the outskirts of the metro area, she said.
Elisabeth Lawaczeck, state public health veterinarian with DHS, said skunks live near people because of the abundance of food, but will generally stay away from humans and domestic animals.
“They’re usually not very active in the middle of the day,” she said. “Being out during the day is a sign that they are not acting normally.”
Another indicator, Lawaczeck said, is rabid or sick skunks are more likely to attack dogs or chase or bite people.
During the last stage of their sickness, rabid skunks will wobble when they walk and fall down easily, she said.
Bats traditionally account for the greatest number of rabid animals in Arizona, accounting for 89 of last year’s 176 rabid animals.
Who to call
If you believe you or your animal has been bit by a rabid animal, call Pima Animal Care at 243-9900.