A statewide proliferation in rabies cases is making its way to the Verde Valley.
Since late January, three confirmed cases of rabid foxes have occurred in the valley, one at Montezuma Well, one off Arena Del Loma Road in Camp Verde and one north of Sedona.
It a sign that the statewide increase in rabies cases, which began escalating a year ago, is continuing. Last year the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 176 laboratory-confirmed cases of rabies statewide, a record for one year.
As of the first week of March there have been anther 52 confirmed cases statewide this year. The count includes 32 skunks, 18 foxes, a bobcat and a horse.
"The rabies cases we have seen here in Yavapai County have been confined to foxes, so far," said Steve Everett, epidemiologist for the Yavapai County. "But then again what we see depends on what people come across and bring in to get tested."
None of the 14 cases from Yavapai County reported in 2008 and 2009 have crossed over to domestic animals. One case last November resulted in a Prescott woman and an animal control officer being bitten.
"It's a bizarre disease that goes from animal to animal and can affect any mammal. Some of the Arizona cases are skunks or foxes carrying a strain of rabies that comes from bats," said Clint Luedtke, wildlife health officer with Game & Fish.
According to Elisabeth Lawaczeck, veterinarian for the Arizona Department of Health Services, the increased incidents of rabies is the result of several factors.
"Public health agencies, animal control and wildlife agencies are working better together to enhance what we call surveillance -- that is looking for the disease. But it is also people encroaching more and more into wild lands.
"The chance of people coming across animals with rabies, whether they are out hiking or living on the edge of town, they are more likely to have contact with wild animals. There is also the known fact that rabies, at least in some animals like skunks, is cyclical," Lawaczeck said.
With the hiking season now in full swing, officials with both the state and the county are advising that while people are on the look out for the ubiquitous rattlesnakes that come out every year about this time, they also should be aware of any wild animals acting strangely.
Odd behavior is described as wilds animals losing their fear of people, animals approaching people on hiking paths or attacking another animal without provocation.
If an animal suspected of having rabies is spotted it should be reported to Game & Fish. Their hotline number is (800) 352-0700. Anyone coming in contact with a suspected animal should seek immediate medical attention.
"The treatment is a series of five shots that, if you don't have insurance, can be hugely expensive, like $10,000," Everett said. "So if at all possible, you don't want to get bit."