HEALTH: Rabies attacks brain and nervous system
By Jennifer Michaelson
Rabies can infect all mammals and is commonly seen in bats, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and raccoons. People can also be affected by the virus.
It is usually fatal once a person or animal becomes sick with rabies.
The first line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with wild animals, sick or injured animals, and animals you don’t know. Keeping your pet vaccinated and from straying off your property helps limit the chances of your pet being bitten by a wild animal with rabies.
If you find a sick or injured wild animal, do not touch it. If you handle or care for the animal, you are not only potentially exposing yourself to rabies, but you will also be held responsible for vet and lab costs involved in testing the animal for rabies if you are bitten.
Ohio law requires medical professionals to report all mammal bites/exposures to the local health district in the jurisdiction where the bite/exposure occurred. Even bites from a pet with current vaccinations are required to be reported. The health district will then conduct an investigation. Only mammals are susceptible to the rabies virus. Bites from reptiles, birds, fish, insects or spiders cannot transmit the rabies virus, although you should still contact your physician for specific treatments for secondary infections. If your pet fought with or was bitten by a wild animal, call your veterinarian for advice.
Report to the health district if any of the following events occur:
1. If you had contact with the saliva of a mammal through a bite or open wound (scratch/cut in the skin) or mucous membrane contact (nose, mouth, or eyes). Vectors for the virus in the wild are bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons or skunks. Pets, domestic animals, and livestock are also susceptible to the rabies virus after contact with any of these wild animals.
2. A bat bite is very small and may go undetected, so the history of any potential bat contact should be carefully evaluated to determine the potential for exposure. If exposure occurred, the bat should be safely captured, if possible, and submitted for testing. For more information on potential exposure criteria, safely capturing a bat for testing, or general information on bats, go to the Ohio Department of Health’s website http://www.odh.ohio.gov/ under the subject “Rabies and Bats.”
What to do if you are bitten by an animal:
1. Wash the wound with lots of soap and water right away.
2. Seek medical attention.
3. Capture the animal, if you can do it safely, or get the name and address of the animal’s owner.
4. Call the health district if you have possession of the wild or stray animal (alive or dead) that bit you in order to make arrangements for the testing.
Please note that the health district will not remove sick animals, road kill or other dead animals if there was no human bite incident.
When reporting the animal bite, have as much of the following information as possible:
• How and where the bite occurred
• Breed and description of the animal (color, markings, long or short hair)
• If it was a pet, name and address of owner
• If the owner is unknown, was the animal wearing a collar or tags
• Where is the animal now?
The Madison County-London City Health District will place the pet or domestic animal under quarantine for at least 10 days, usually at the owner’s home. If the animal remains healthy during quarantine then it is clear that it did not have rabies. An animal that is infected with the rabies virus will show symptoms and die within the 10 day period. Wild animals are not placed under quarantine, and it is required that they be put down and tested soon after capture.
What you can do to protect your family and pets from rabies:
1. Avoid contact with wildlife and animals you do not know.
2. Vaccinate your dogs, cats and ferrets for rabies and keep them current.
3. Spay or neuter to decrease the number of stray animals
4. Maintain control of your pets to reduce their exposure to wildlife
5. To decrease uninvited wildlife to your home, do the following:
• Bring pet food in at night and tightly cover your trash between collection days.
• Board up openings or screen vents to attics of your home and cap your chimney
There is effective treatment if you are exposed to a confirmed rabid animal. It is important to seek medical attention immediately, and your doctor will decide, after taking all of the risk factors into consideration, whether or not to start treatment.
It will depend on whether the bite was from a wild animal, a stray, a pet, and on the circumstances of how and why the animal bit you.
Jennifer Michaelson, R.S., is the director of environmental health at the Madison County-London City Health District. She can be reached at (740) 852-3065.