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Allegany County Health Department  
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Rabies and Rabies Prevention

What is rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. In Maryland, rabies is found most often in raccoons, skunks, foxes, cats, bats, and groundhogs. Other mammals, including dogs and farm animals, can also get rabies. Rabies is rarely reported in rabbits and small rodents such as squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.

How is rabies spread?

In rabid animals the rabies virus is found in the saliva of the infected animal. The most common transfer method is an animal to animal or animal to human bite. Nonbite exposures from animals other than bats rarely cause rabies, examples of nonbite exposures include animal saliva coming into contact with open wounds, the eyes, nose, or mouth, or possibly, scratches. Contact, such as petting or contact with blood, urine, or feces of rabid animals are not considered exposures.

The rabies virus is inactivated (killed) by heat, sunlight, and drying. If the material containing the virus is dry, it won't cause rabies. The rabies virus is also inactivated by many common detergents and disinfectants.

What are some ways to tell if an animal has rabies?

A change in behavior is often a sign that an animal may have rabies. Examples of this are, wild animals with rabies may act friendly, while domestic animals may become aggressive. Staggering, drooling a lot, or even paralysis may be experienced by rabid animals. Animals that are usually nocturnal may become active during the day. It is important to remember that an animal with the rabies virus may be able to spread the virus without showing any signs of the disease.

Immunization......Is the Key!

Dogs, cats, and ferrets four months of age and older must be vaccinated against rabies in the State of Maryland. One year later, the animal must be given a second shot. After the first two vaccinations, booster doses of vaccine are needed every one to three years, depending on the particular vaccine used. There are also rabies vaccines that are approved for use in horses, cattle, and sheep.

What to do if you have been bitten or exposed....

Immediately wash the wound with soap and lots of water. If available, use a disinfectant (such as povidone-iodine solution) to flush the wound. Get the name and address of the animal's owner, and find out if the animal is up-to-date on its rabies shots. If there is no owner, remember what the animal looked like. If you were bitten by a wild animal, try to capture or confine the animal if you can do so safely; if the animal must be killed, try not to damage its head. Seek medical attention promptly and be sure to report the bite or exposure to your local animal control agency, health department, or police.

What happens to my pet if it bites someone?

A dog, cat, or ferret that bites or exposes a person will be quarantined for ten days. The quarantine is usually done at home.

What if my pet has been bitten.......

If contact with a wild or stray animal and your pet occurs, do not touch the wild or stray animal and avoid touching your pet with bare hands. Call and consult your veterinarian and report the incident to your local animal control agency, health department, or police.

If your pet has been in a fight with an owned dog, cat, or other domestic animal, get the owner's name, address, and telephone number, and consult your veterinarian. Contact your local animal control agency or health department for further recommendations.

Beware of bats...

Most of the recent human cases of rabies have been caused by rabies virus from bats. Whenever there is a possible human exposure to a bat, the bat should be safely collected, if possible, and tested for rabies. Although people usually know when a bat has bitten them, bats have small teeth that may not leave obvious marks. Therefore, if a bat is not available for testing, treatment should be considered for people who were in the same room as a bat and who might not know that a bite or direct contact occurred (for example, a sleeping person awakens to find a bat in the room or an adult sees a bat in the room with a previously unattended child, mentally disabled person, or intoxicated person).

Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens and chimney caps and by closing any opening greater than 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch. Call your local health department for more information about bats and rabies.

Rabies vaccines for humans....

There is a treatment that is effective in preventing rabies in humans if given soon after an exposure. It consists of a series of five vaccinations given in the arm over a one-month period. In addition, an injection of rabies immune globulin (RIG) is given at the time of the first vaccination; RIG is usually given around the wound.