is a disease humans may get from being bitten by an animal infected with
the rabies virus. Although it can be completely prevented, if untreated
it is almost always deadly. It is therefore essential to recognize any
possible exposure and promptly get appropriate medical care before
Any mammal can get rabies however,
rabies is more common in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes
than in cats and dogs. Seldom is rabies found in rabbits,
squirrels and other rodents. (2)
For a human to get rabies,
there must be exposure to the saliva of a rabid animal, either through a
bite or scratch. Bites are the most common source, but scratches
are still considered a possible mode of entry. The virus in the
saliva must enter an opening in the skin (such as a cut or wound) or
through the mucous membranes (eyes or mouth). Once in the body, the
virus ultimately spreads to the brain and other major organs.
There is a wide range of symptoms a
rabid animal may have. It may
appear sick, crazed, or vicious. However, it may also appear
unusually friendly, docile, confused or even appear completely normal.
Any unusual behavior should raise a suspicion of rabies. For
instance a normally nocturnal wide animal, such as a bat or a fox,
wandering around during the day might have rabies.(1) The photo above is a rabid fox sitting in a wooded area, courtesy of the CDC. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.
If you think
you've been exposed to a rabid animal,
call your doctor immediately.
the animal is a pet, attempt to locate the pet owner for the pet's vaccination record (record
of shots). An animal that appears
healthy and has been vaccinated should still be quarantined (kept
away from people and other animals) for 10 days to make sure it
doesn't start showing signs of rabies. If the animal gets sick
during the 10-day period, a veterinarian will test it for rabies. If
the animal does have rabies, you will need to get a series of rabies
shots (see below).
- If the
animal is wild or a stray, or you can't find the owner of the pet
that bit you,
call the animal control
agency or health department in your area. They will try to find the
animal so it can be tested for rabies.
- If the animal
control agency or health department can't find the animal that bit
the animal shows signs of rabies after the bite, or if a test shows
that the animal has rabies, your doctor will probably decide to give
you a series of rabies shots.
- If you are bitten by a bator if infectious material (such as
saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound --
wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice
immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent
to a laboratory for rabies testing. Preferably contact an
animal-control or public health agency for assistance. People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat. However,
because bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not
easily seen, there are situations in which you should seek medical
advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. For example, if
you awaken and find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an
unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or
intoxicated person, seek medical advice and have the bat tested."(8)How can I safely capture a bat in my
home? from the CDC
vaccines are relatively painless and have few side effects
is called postexposure prophylaxis or PEP which consists of a regimen of
one dose of immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine over a
28-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies
vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible
after exposure. Additional doses or rabies vaccine should be given on
days 3, 7, 14, and 28 after the first vaccination. Newer vaccines in use
today are relatively painless and have few side effects.
They are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.(5)
can also be transmitted from bites
to open wounds.(10)
If the patient has not had a tetanus immunization in the last 5 years, a
Tetanus (Td) injection (booster) should be
given within 24 hrs. of injury.
Rabies from emedicine.com
the U.S. Postal Service
- Animal Bites
from emedicine.com Author:
Jack Stump, MD, Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency
Medicine, Southwest Washington Medical Center
Cat and Dog bitesfrom
FamilyDoctor.org. This is a good patient handout detailing
all the important considerations related to cat and dog bites.
Questions and Answers about Rabies from the CDC, Center for
Animal Bites from the
Animal Bites from
Bats and Rabies
from the CDC
- How can I safely capture
a bat in my home? from the CDC
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