SILVER CITY, N.M. (KRQE) – Following several cases of rabies reported in New Mexico with some of them in Catron County, Forest Service officials are reminding the community not to approach animals that appear sick or overly friendly. Rabies is a preventable viral disease that is fatal.

It can be spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. According to a press release from the Gila National Forest, rabies is primarily found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

The CDC states that most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites. The CDC explains that the rabies virus infects the central nervous system and if a person doesn’t receive appropriate medical care after being exposed to rabies, the virus can cause disease in the brain which results in death.

The Gila National Forest urges residents to keep their dog on a leash while hiking in the forest to prevent pets from chasing any wildlife or from having a possible encounter with wildlife. To report a wild animal that appears sick or acting abnormally, contact the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish at 575-532-2100 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays in southern New Mexico.

After hours, on weekends, and in other areas in New Mexico, call 505-827-9376. Additionally, you can call a USDA/Wildlife Services Biologist 24/7 to take reports regarding sick, abnormal acting or recently dead wild animals at 505-967-8711.

If an individual is bitten by a wild animal they are urged to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention. You can call the New Mexico Department of Health 24/7 at 505-827-0006 regarding animal bites and rabies.