LITTLE ROCK — Rabies has been confirmed in a cow that died last week near Kingston in Madison County, the state Department of Health said Tuesday.

While rabies is most common in skunks, it has been confirmed in cows in the state over the years, the department said, including three cases last year.

In the latest case, the cow was apparently infected by a bite from a rabid skunk four to 12 weeks prior to showing symptoms, the department said.

Officials said rabies is not transmitted through cooked beef or pasteurized milk.

So far this year, rabies has been confirmed in 14 skunks and one dog. Last year, 101 skunks were confirmed with rabies.

Susan Weinstein, state public health veterinarian, said 2012 was a bad year for rabies in the state with 131 cases confirmed in animals, compared to an annual average of 47 rabid animals.

Weinstein said the presence of rabies in an animal in the area is a warning sign.

"What we know is that when we find a cow or a skunk with rabies in a local area, there are usually more rabid skunks in the wild that will never be discovered," she said. "This puts the local animal population at risk, especially dogs, cats and livestock."

Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is fatal to animals and humans. The virus lives in the saliva and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread by a bite or scratch.

Weinstein said people should make sure their dogs or cats are current on their rabies vaccinations.

She also urged people to not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, keep all family pets indoors at night and bat-proof homes.

Children also should be encouraged to immediately tell an adult if they are bitten by an animal and children should be taught to avoid wildlife, strays and all animals they do not know well, health officials said.