More than 40 pets and livestock in southeastern New Mexico were euthanized because of exposure to rabid wild animals in late 2011 and early 2012, state health authorities said.
Dr. Paul Ettestad, New Mexico's state public health veterinarian, said the animals were affected by one of the state's most concentrated rabies outbreaks in decades.
The New Mexico Department of Health and Dr. Ettestad indicated that 32 dogs, one cat, and 10 sheep near Carlsbad were euthanized in December, January, and February because of exposure to rabid wildlife. Dr. Ettestad said that some of the sheep had been bitten by a rabid fox and that all had been exposed to the animal.
A department announcement noted lack of vaccination of the dogs.
"With the exception of puppies that were too young to be fully vaccinated, all of these deaths could have been prevented," the announcement stated.
During those three months, tests confirmed 22 skunks, one dog, and one fox were infected with the rabies virus near Carlsbad, which is in Eddy County. In January and February, 12 of the county's residents were given rabies postexposure prophylaxis.
Dr. Ettestad said skunk populations in the western U.S. fluctuate every several years, and an increased population of skunks may have been attracted to potential food sources in urban areas during the past few years of drought.
"They're concentrated together, so they're going to interact with each other more, they're going to get noticed more, and more pets are going to interact with them," he said.
He noted that no humans were directly exposed to rabid wild animals.
"But yet, when you had an unvaccinated dog that came down with rabies, all of a sudden you had all of the family members—eight people—who needed to get post-exposure prophylaxis," he said.
New Mexico had 17 confirmed rabies infections in animals during the first two months of 2012 and 19 in all of 2011. Of the 2011 infections, 14 involved skunks and most were in Eddy County.
Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in early March that no rabid animals had been discovered in the three Texas counties bordering New Mexico's Eddy County since 2010, when an infected bat was found in Reeves County, Texas. In the first month of 2012, the only cluster of rabies infections in Texas appeared to involve skunks near Dallas, according to a map from the health department.