There was a time when rabies was a dreaded disease across the U.S.
Many readers are old enough to recall tales of rabid dogs foaming at the mouth and roaming streets, especially in rural areas.
But in truth rabies is fairly rare these days and wasn't especially common way back when. Back in the 1940s about 100 people died from rabies each year. Now it's about two or three.
Of wild animals, bats are the most common carriers of the disease, followed by raccoons, skunks and foxes. It's not wise to handle these animals under any circumstances. If you are bitten you must seek immediate medical attention.
Thanks to vaccines, though, the animals we most often come in contact with—dogs and cats—seldom come down with rabies. But it can happen, especially if pet owners are irresponsible.
Last week authorities in Northeast Arkansas announced the state's first confirmed case of rabies in a dog in more than 20 years. It's believed the canine came in contact with a rabid skunk. The state Health Department did not say whether any humans had been bitten by the dog. We certainly hope not.
But the incident shows how important it is to have your pets vaccinated against rabies and to keep those vaccinations current. Because if pet owners shirk that responsibility, there is always a chance rabies could spread and become more common. That puts people and their animals at risk.
Let's hope the Northeast Arkansas case was just an anomaly. Twenty years is a good run. With any luck the state will see another two decades without rabies in man's best friend.