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What You Need to Know About Rabies

Rabies is deadly disease, but, luckily, outbreaks are not particularly common in the United States. In fact, 95 percent of deaths due to rabies occur in Africa and Asia, according to the World Health Organization. Although rabies might not be widespread in the U.S., the consequences can be severe if you are bitten by a rabid animal.

A Dangerous Virus

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that is spread among mammals. It is part of a group of diseases, called zoonotic diseases, that animals can transmit to humans. The rabies virus is usually transmitted through saliva when an infected animal bites or scratches you; although you can also get rabies if you touch the brain or nervous system tissue of an animal.

Not Just Bats

Bats are one of the most well-known carriers of the rabies virus, but they are not the only mammals that can infect people. Other carriers include skunks, cattle, coyotes, foxes, dogs, cats, ferrets and raccoons; although bites from infected dogs cause the majority of human deaths attributed to rabies.

Types of Exposure

A bite from an infected animal is not the only way that the virus spreads. Because rabies is present in the animal’s saliva, you can also get rabies if the saliva comes in contact with a scratch or wound or with your mouth, lips, eyes or other mucous membranes. For example, being licked by a dog with rabies could expose you to the virus. Rabies is not spread by touching or petting an infected animal or by coming in contact with its urine, feces or blood. If you are not sure if you should receive treatment, call your doctor or local health department for advice.

Rabies Symptoms

Rabies symptoms do not develop immediately after you are bitten. It may take one week to three months before you may notice any changes in your health. Early symptoms include fever, pain and a burning or tingling feeling at the site of your wound. The virus eventually travels throughout your entire nervous system, causing inflammation of the spinal cord and brain. Rabies is often fatal once symptoms develop.

The Good News

Rabies is very rarely fatal if you receive treatment soon after exposure. You will receive one dose of immune globulin and four doses of the rabies vaccine over the course of two weeks. Although these injections were once given in the abdomen, today, doctors use your arm as the injection site.

Preventing the Spread of Rabies

Rabies vaccines for pets are very effective in preventing the disease. Depending on your state, you may be required to vaccinate your pet every year or every three years. Avoid contact with wild animals and be careful when handling the remains of dead wild animals. If you notice that animals that are normally nocturnal, such as skunks or raccoons, are active during the day, stay away from them and call your local animal control department.

Whether you have questions about rabies or other illnesses or health conditions that can affect your pet, we are here for you. Just give us a call, and we will be happy to answer your questions or make an appointment for you.

What to Do If You Think You Might Have Rabies

If you think you may have been infected with rabies, take the following steps:

  • Wash the wound with anti-bacterial soap and rinse it thoroughly. Washing will help remove some of the saliva; although you cannot rely on washing alone to prevent an infection.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible. Prompt treatment is the key to avoiding or treating rabies. Based on the type of exposure, your doctor will determine if you need treatment.
  • Talk to animal control personnel and health department staff about the location of the animal. These departments will do their best to capture a wild animal and test it for rabies. If you were bitten by a pet, it will be observed for 10 days. You will not need to receive treatment if the pet remains healthy during this time. Treatment recommendations for other animals vary, depending on the type of animal and exposure. If you have been bitten and the animal cannot be found, treatment is often recommended. Because bats have tiny teeth, you may not always realize that you have been bitten, particularly if the bat was in your bedroom overnight. Be sure to mention any exposure to bats to your doctor.

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