According to press release issued by the Arkansas Department of Health, three skunks from Pulaski County have tested positive for rabies so far this year.

All have been from the northwest part of the county; one was in the Maumelle community and the other two in unincorporated areas north of Maumelle. Rabies has not been seen in land animals, such as skunks, in Pulaski County since 1980.

Health officials warn that any skunk seen during the day is likely to be rabid, and should be avoided and reported to authorities. In Arkansas, it is common that rabies is spread to domestic animals through skunks.

Rabies is most often seen in animals such as skunks and bats, though unvaccinated cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock can also develop rabies.

The DHS press release notes that pet owners should routinely ensure their animals have current rabies vaccinations, and a rabies alert calls for pet owners to re-check their pets’ records,.

By state law, all dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian; the law allows the vaccinations every three years.

Vaccinating against rabies protects pets and the people around the pets.

In infected animals, the virus lives in saliva and nervous tissues and is spread through bites and scratches. The virus can also be spread if infected saliva touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.

The virus attacks the brain and spinal cord; the disease is fatal.

The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly. Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are often present.

Skunks, normally active at night, might be seen out in daylight, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house.

Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone. But not all rabid animals act in these ways; avoid all wild animals — especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.

So far in 2013, the state has had 61 rabid animals: 58 skunks, two dogs and one cow.

Anyone who thinks they have been exposed to rabies should immediately wash any wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician immediately and report the incident. When possible, the animal should be captured, preferably without damaging its head or risking further exposure.

An apparently healthy pet dog or cat that bites a person must be captured, confined and observed for 10 days following the bite.

If the animal remains healthy, it did not transmit rabies. Treat strays as wild animals.

The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.

Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the nearest local health unit. Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.