WILLIAMSVILLE — Three skunks and a horse have tested positive for rabies in southeast Missouri since the beginning of the year.
Rabies cases are rare in the cold-weather months. The Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic reports that the four cases this year equal the total number of January-February cases in Missouri in the previous five years.
The rabid skunks were in Douglas, Howell and Ste. Genevieve counties.
Most recently, an American quarter horse from Williamsville in Wayne County was first thought to have a muscle disease. It continued to deteriorate and became slightly aggressive before dying. After the horse died, it tested positive for rabies. Wayne County was placed under a 90-day rabies alert.
Chris Grider, environmental public health specialist for the Butler County Health Department, said the rabies cases are "almost unheard of for this time of year."
An advisory sent out last month by Howard Pue, state public health veterinarian, said skunk mating season could be a factor. Mating season for skunks starts in February and continues through March.
Rabies is most common among smaller mammals. It is less common in horses.
"Horses will try to get away from something they see as fear," said Cathy Hicks, the veterinarian who first treated the diseased horse.
She warned people to be cautious of any unusual behavior from wild animals, such as nocturnal animals active during the day or a wild animal willing to approach humans.
Grider suggests that humans always keep a distance from any wild animal.
"I love wild animals, but there's a risk there," he said.