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About Rabies

A fox with rabies Rabies 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 symptoms develop.(1)

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.

  • If 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 you, if 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. (see below) (3)

  • 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 

Rabies Shots--Current vaccines are relatively painless and have few side effects

This 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) 

Tetanus

Tetanus 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.   

References
  1. Rabies from emedicine.com
  2. Dog Bites from the U.S. Postal Service
  3. Animal Bites from emedicine.com Author: Jack Stump, MD, Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Southwest Washington Medical Center
  4. Cat and Dog bitesfrom FamilyDoctor.org. This is a good patient handout detailing all the important considerations related to cat and dog bites.
  5. Questions and Answers about Rabies from the CDC, Center for Disease Control
  6. Animal Bites from the Mayo Clinic
  7. Animal Bites from Merck Source
  8. Bats and Rabies from the CDC
  9. How can I safely capture a bat in my home? from the CDC
  10. Tetanus from emedicine.com

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