Rabies Outbreak: 10 Things You Should Know
With multiple potential rabies cases reported in the last few months, here are 10 things to know about the deadly virus and how to keep your family safe.
The Montgomery County Health Department confirmed that a bat that bit two people last week in King of Prussia tested positive for rabies, according to Main Line Media.
A rabid raccoon bit someone in the Wissahickon in May and a few weeks later, there was a report that a potentially rabid raccoon bit a dog, also in the Wissahickon.
A rabid fox was found in Wayne in April and then a skunk in Hatboro, Montgomery County, tested positive for rabies.
A man visiting West Bethlehem was bitten by a rabid fox recently. It was the third attack by a fox in eastern Lehigh County this month. In two of those cases, the animal was confirmed to have rabies.
In 2010, Pennsylvania led all states in the country in the number of rabies cases among domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, horses and cows, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Since 2000, the number of animals confirmed to have rabies in Pennsylvania has ranged between 350 and 500 a year, according to the state Department of Health. In 2010, 6 percent of the confirmed rabies cases were foxes, while 53 percent were raccoons. Cats and skunks accounted for 14 percent each while bats accounted for 7 percent of confirmed cases.
With the warm weather here, lots of us—and our pets, too—will be spending more time outdoors, which increases the possibility of encountering wildlife that may have been infected with the virus.
Here are some things about rabies you should know:
- No human has contracted the virus in Pennsylvania since 1984. But that does not mean the risk is not real. Rabies is almost always fatal in humans if it is not treated with a vaccine before symptoms begin to develop. On the other hand, the vaccine is just about 100 percent effective in humans if administered in time.
- If you are bitten by an animal, immediately wash the wound with plenty of soap and warm water, and then promptly seek medical care. If the circumstances of the bite warrant, human rabies vaccine may be prescribed.
- The human rabies vaccine is a series of four shots given in the arm (or thigh for small children) on days 0, 3, 7 and 14 after presentation to the health care provider. Rabies immune globulin is also given along with the vaccine on day zero.
- If acting normally, dogs, cats, and ferrets that delivered the bite to a person may be observed for 10 days from the day of the bite. If the dog, cat, or ferret is healthy after 10 days, it did not have rabies in its saliva at the time of the bite.
- Observation is not an option with other animals. A veterinarian and local health authorities should routinely be consulted to advise if further action is necessary. Other animals should be humanely killed, and the heads sent to the appropriate laboratory for rabies testing. If an animal must be shot to prevent its escape, care should be taken not to damage the brain.
- Rabies is spread through saliva. When the virus is deposited in a bite wound, it replicates in adjacent skeletal muscle cells. When the rabies virus concentration in the wound becomes sufficient, it enters the nearby nerves. The virus then spreads to the brain, and then travels back through the nerves to the salivary glands, where virus is shed in the saliva.
- The symptoms of rabies in humans consist of irritability, fatigue, headache, fever, and pain or itching at the exposure site. The disease eventually progresses to paralysis, spasms of the throat muscles, seizures, delirium, and death.
- The incubation period for rabies in humans is usually 3 – 8 weeks, but can be as short as one week to as long as nine years. It is never too late to seek medical attention for a potential rabies exposure.
- Pets should always be kept up-to-date on rabies shots. The vaccine can prevent your pet from getting rabies from other animals even if it is attacked. Keep control of your pets. Keep cats and ferrets indoors. Keep dogs on a leash or directly supervised.
- Unvaccinated dogs, cats or ferrets that have been exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should be placed in strict isolation for six months and vaccinated one month before being released.
Sources: Pennsylvania Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.