World Rabies Day 2014 and Animal Bites

Today is World Rabies Day 2014

I have posted about rabies multiple times(here and here), because I feel that people, especially in developed western cultures, do not understand the true implications of rabies. It is estimated that 200 people die every day worldwide from rabies. If you have a place to get your dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, etc. vaccinated for rabies, please do so. You can save a life. When I came home from Mongolia, in the two weeks that I was working, I had two cases that were placed in quarantine – 60 days for each animal. One had exposure to a raccoon, one to a bat. Thankfully, both had been vaccinated previously. Is rabies highly likely in Wisconsin? No, but it is possible.

On a happier note, the first person to survive rabies without post-exposure vaccination (or previous vaccination), Jeanne Giese, got married last weekend. That is pretty exciting. She was even able to walk down the aisle. Congratulations!

What should you do if a person or animal has contact (bite or scratch) with wildlife?

This depends on where you are to some extent, but the essentials are:

1. Clean the wound with soap and warm to hot water (not scalding) for a minimum of 10 minutes.

2. Seek medical attention – medical doctor or veterinarian depending on the species affected.

3. An animals rabies vaccination should be updated immediately.

4. If the animal that has bitten or scratched is available for testing, then it should be caught and submitted for rabies testing. A big mistake that is often made is that the animal is either hit or shot in the head – DO NOT DO THIS! The brain needs to be tested, so damage to the head often makes it impossible to test the brain. The animal can either be given to your veterinarian or to the local health department, which will then submit the proper specimens.

5. If the animal is not available for testing, then a person will generally go through post-exposure treatment. An animal will have its rabies vaccine updated and then be placed in a 60 day quarantine, although this can be longer if it had never been vaccinated previously.

What if you or your pet are bitten by a domestic animal?

1. Clean the wounds with soup and warm to hot (not scalding) water for a minimum of 10 minutes.

2. Seek medical attention – medical doctor or veterinarian depending on the species affected.

3. The animal that has bitten should be placed in quarantine at the direction of the local health or police department. The animal will likely be placed in a 10 day quarantine. Sometimes this can be in home, sometimes it will be in a controlled facility – this is determined by the authorities, and has to do with vaccination status. An animal that has been vaccinated will usually be an in-home quarantine. During this quarantine, the animal will need to be examined by a veterinarian three times – the day of the bite, 10 days after the bite, and one day in between. The reasoning is that if the animal has rabies, it will show symptoms and die within the 10 days.

4. If the animal is not available for quarantine, then a person will generally go through post-exposure treatment – multiple injections. An animal will have its rabies vaccine updated and then be placed in a 60 day quarantine, potentially longer if it had never been vaccinated previously.

The most important part is to receive medical treatment. It is easy for a bite to turn bad, very quickly. Wildlife can carry multiple diseases and will generally stay away from people if they are healthy, so interactions that result in bites are usually interactions with sick animals. Dog bites generally cause crushing injuries that may not be apparent immediately. Cat and ferret bites generally are deep punctures that leave bacteria deep in the wounds – these are most likely to cause severe infection and loss of limbs. Waiting until signs of infection appear is not a good idea for many reasons.

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