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Rabies Facts & Prevention Tips

Release Date: April 12, 2017

Rabies Facts & Prevention Tips

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus. Rabid animals contain the virus in their saliva. Transmission occurs when a rabid animal bites and or contaminates an open cut allowing entry of the virus. The rabies virus attacks the nervous system, if untreated it will cause death. The rabies virus only affects mammals, including humans. Wildlife such as raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs and foxes account for the majority of cases in the United States. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats and farm animals may also become infected if bitten by a rabid animal. Rodents are rarely infected.

An animal infected with the rabies virus may appear to be "drunk-like" and have trouble walking, as well they can be vicious or aggressive. It is possible for an animal to be infected but not display the symptoms noted above. Never approach wildlife or an animal that appears sick or injured, even if the animal may appear to be a pet. If you are bitten by an animal that you suspect may have rabies; clean the wound immediately with soap and water, seek medical attention and report the bite to the local health department. If a domestic animal or farm animal is involved always attempt to get information such as pet owner's name, phone, address, description of animal and vaccination status. If the biting animal is a domestic pet or stray animal that can be caught the animal will be placed on an observation period. The animal will be observed for 10 days to ensure they are free of rabies regardless of vaccination status. In most cases the observation period will be carried out in the animal owner's home. This measure is a necessary precaution to rule out the possibility of rabies. If bitten by a wild animal, take precaution to prevent further contact with the animal. If possible contain the animal without risking exposure. Animal control officers should be contacted to safely remove the animal. Care must be taken to avoid damaging the brain of the animal, accurate testing can only be performed when the brain of the animal is intact. Seek medical attention and report the bite to your local health department.

If the animal is not available for testing, the decision to start human treatment will be made by the bite victim and his/her physician based on recommendations by the local health department. Post exposure treatment consists of a series of vaccinations given on the following schedule, day 0 (date of bite), day 3, day 7 and day 14.

You can help protect yourself and your pets from rabies by following mandated rabies vaccination guidelines, dog licensing, securing your home and outdoor awareness. Consult with your veterinarian to establish a vaccination schedule for your pets. Vaccination greatly reduces the risk of rabies. Obtain a license for your pets, early identification of a biting animal can save time and assist in determining the need for post exposure treatment. Secure your home against the entry of bats and other animals by eliminating access points utilized by bats and other wildlife to enter your home. Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry into your living quarters. Use window screens, chimney caps, close chimney flues and apply draft-guards beneath doors to attics. Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking. Ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly. Fall and winter are the best times to "bat-proof" your home. These preventive tips can help safeguard your family against rabies. Enjoy the out of doors and remember to remain aware of your surroundings and the wildlife that reside there.

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Sussex County Rabies Information