The drought is not only scorching lawns and sparking wildfires across Texas. The number of animal rabies cases — particularly among skunks — has more than doubled since this time in 2010 in the Central Texas region, and the increase may be due to the state's nine-month drought, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
During the first six months of 2011, 268 cases of animal rabies were reported in Central Texas, compared to 109 cases reported during the same period last year. And the middle swath of the state is not the only area where animal rabies is on the rise. North Texas, with 151 cases reported since January, also has seen more cases than last year, when the total was 81. Statewide, 591 animal rabies cases were reported during the first six months of this year, compared to 387 cases for the first six months of last year.
"In this time of drought, animals are searching for food and water, which increases the likelihood of interacting with each other and then infecting each other through bites," said DSHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams.
The city of Austin has received only about 11 inches of rainfall since Oct. 1, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority — about 20 inches below normal. The LCRA reported last week that Central Texas' two major reservoir lakes, Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis, are only about 52 percent full (a combined rate).
No human has been infected with rabies in Texas since 2009, but Williams said that the DSHS is worried about pets that could get bitten by a skunk or other wild animals. She stressed that families with pets need to get their animals vaccinated. "A rabid skunk will display very strange behavior and might wander into the backyard, where the family dog is playing," Williams said.
The DSHS also asks that Texas residents avoid feeding, touching or adopting skunks, bats, raccoons and foxes. Skunks and bats are the two most common animals in Texas to have rabies. Although it's almost always fatal in humans, a series of post-exposure shots can prevent rabies if they are administered quickly.