There are many potential zoonotic diseases (passed between animals and humans) that animal owners should be aware of. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system causing fatal encephalitis in affected animals. It is a seldom encountered neurologic disease in horses; however, it is invariably fatal and has considerable public health concerns.
Signs of rabies infection in the horse can range from sudden behavior change, blindness, or a stumbling gait to complete recumbence and inability to rise. Human exposure generally occurs when broken skin or mucous membranes are exposed to the saliva of a rabid animal or after sustaining a bite. This generally occurs when people try to help an injured or debilitated wild animal such as a bat, fox, raccoon, etc. Prevention of this neurological disease in humans is possible with prompt and proper treatment after rabies exposure.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), the last human fatality in Arizona to rabies was in 1981. The majority of confirmed rabies cases in Arizona are found in the bat, fox, or skunk. In 2007, 115 of the 159 positive rabies cases in Arizona were found in bats. The likelihood of contacting a rabid animal in town is remote. However, horse owners who live where wild animals are seen on a regular basis, or who travel with their horse to rural areas of Arizona, are encouraged to vaccinate for rabies. It would be wise to explore the AZDHS website:http://www.azdhs.gov/phs/oids/vector/rabies/ for a map showing all of the positive rabies cases by county and to further educate one’s self on zoonotic diseases.