Bringing Awareness to the Rabies Virus

Did you know September is Rabies Month? In fact, September 28th is World Rabies Day! So, let’s start the month by bringing some awareness to this deadly virus.

How is rabies transmitted and what does it do?

The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms occur. It is spread when infected saliva comes in contact with broken skin. Generally, this is through a bite from an infected animal, but transmission can occur from a scratch if saliva is present.

What happens if my pet bites someone or another pet?

  1. If a pet is unvaccinated, animal control will order the animal to be quarantined for at least 10 days after the bite. It must be brought to an isolation facility (often the veterinary clinic) within 24 hours of the incident. It is then examined by a licensed veterinarian on day 1, day 10, and one day during the observation period. If no signs of rabies are observed, the quarantine is released. If signs of rabies are observed, the animal is humanely euthanized and further testing is done. All costs associated with the quarantine are the owner’s responsibility.
  2. If a pet is vaccinated, an animal control officer will order a 10-day quarantine, but it may be done at home. The animal is examined by a licensed veterinarian as above.

What happens if my pet is potentially exposed?

  1. If your pet has been bitten or scratched by a bat or wild animal that is not available for testing, it should be treated as having been exposed to the rabies virus. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
  2. As a general guideline, exposed, unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be euthanized or placed in strict isolation for 6 months.
  3. Pets that are current on their rabies vaccination are required to be kept under observation for 45 days.

Could I have been exposed to rabies?

In Wisconsin, transmission from bats is the most common source of human rabies. Unfortunately, bites and scratches from bats often go unnoticed, especially if the person is sleeping, is very young, or in any way incapacitated. Therefore, if a bat is found in proximity, and contact cannot be completely ruled out, evaluation by a physician should occur as soon as possible.

Although bats are the most common source, infection from other animals and pets can occur.  If bitten by an animal, wash the wound with soap & water, see a health care provider as soon as possible, and contact animal control.

Rabies Statistics

  • Approximately 40,000 people in the United States receive post-exposure prophylaxis, due to potential exposure, each year.
  • In the United States, rabies in cats is now more common than dogs. In 2009, 300 cases were confirmed. This was three times more cases than dogs.
  • All species of mammals can be infected with the rabies virus. However, the primary reservoirs for the rabies virus in Wisconsin are bats and skunks, with bats being the most common. In fact, the last four cases of human rabies in Wisconsin involved contact with bats. Sporadic cases occur in dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons, and livestock.
  • From 2010-2014, there were 134 confirmed cases of rabies in wildlife in Wisconsin. These included 128 bats, five skunks, and one fox.
  • In the rest of the world, dogs remain the number one source for human rabies with tens of thousands of deaths occurring worldwide each year. 

Preventing the Spread of Rabies

Vaccinate dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestockThe importance of this cannot be overstated. Not only can rabies vaccinations save an animal’s life, but they are required by law. This is true for animals housed solely indoors, as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that 36% of cat-owning households did not see a veterinarian in 2006. This is concerning as cats are now the most commonly infected household pet infected with rabies in the United States. As mentioned above, pets that are not vaccinated and possibly exposed to rabies must be quarantined for 6 months or euthanized, and those that are not vaccinated and involved in a bite incident face a 10 day, expensive quarantine. As always, prevention is the best medicine.  

Spay/neuter your pets to decrease stray animal population.

Maintain control of your pets at all time.

Do not feed or handle while animals. If wild animals are noted to be acting strangely, report them to animal control.

Further Information

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Badger Veterinary Hospital!