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Apr 20, 2010

Facts and Stats about Rabies

FAQs about Rabies in Erath County, Texas

1. What exactly is rabies?
Rabies is a contagious virus that can cause death in people and certain animals and is nearly always fatal if not treated in a timely manner.

2. How is rabies transmitted?
The rabies virus is usually transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, most commonly through a bite. The virus can be transmitted from animal to animal, from animal to human, and on rare occasions, from human to human.

Another way of transmitting the virus, even though highly uncommon, is for saliva or brain tissue from a rabid animal to get directly into the eyes, nose, mouth or open wound of a person or animal.

However, contrary to common belief, you can’t get rabies from the blood, urine, or feces of an infected animal.

During my survey, I noted another misconception about rabies transmission. It is not true that an animal can be just a carrier of the rabies virus and transmit it to another animal or humans for weeks, months or even years.

According to the CDC, "No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat or ferret held in quarantine for 10 days."

Before the rabies virus reaches the brain, the animal does not show any symptoms, according to the CDC. The animal does not appear ill during this time, called the incubation period, which may last for weeks or months. During this time period the animal CAN NOT transmit the virus to another animal or person. This is the reason why animals that have bitten a human are held in quarantine for 10 days.

As the CDC states, " Only late in the disease, after the virus has reached the brain and multiplied there to cause an encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) does the virus move from the brain to the salivary glands and saliva."

3. What animals are most likely to have rabies?
All mammals can get rabies. It is most common in un-vaccinated household pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets as well as in livestock such as cattle, and wild animals like skunks, bats, raccoons, coyotes and foxes.

Small animals like mice, rats, squirrels, and even opossums, are almost never found to be infected with rabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving abnormally and rabies is a major problem in your vicinity.

4. How common is rabies in Erath County?
Officially confirmed rabies cases from 2000 until today include according to the Texas Department of State Health Services Infectious Disease Control Unit:

Year Rabies Cases Confirmed In Variant
2000 24 23 skunks, 1 cat Skunk
2001 27 27 skunks Skunk
2002 8 6 skunks, 1 goat, 1 horse Skunk
2003 10 8 skunks, 2 dogs Skunk
2004 4 2 skunks, 1 bat, 1 cattle Skunk, Bat
2005 5 3 skunks, 1 cat, 1 cattle Skunk
2006 2 1 skunk, 1 dog Skunk
2007 4 3 skunks, 1 cat Skunk
2008 6 3 skunks, 2 dogs, 1 raccoon Skunk
2009 5
3 skunks, 1 cat, 1 raccoon Skunk

All animals except 1 (the bat in 2004) contracted the virus from an infected skunk.

5. How can I tell if an animal has rabies?
The symptoms are not easily recognized because other diseases display similar symptoms. Pets infected with the rabies virus act in unusual ways. Be alert for changes in behavior. A dog that is friendly may avoid people. Mean dogs may act friendly to strangers. Animals may become aggressive, make strange noises or erratic movements, and attack other animals or humans. They may have trouble walking, drinking, swallowing, or chewing. It may not be able to close its mouth, and may appear to be choking. If you see an animal acting like this, call the local animal control agency right away.

6. What should I do if I had contact with a possibly rabid animal?
Prompt treatment is required to prevent a rabies infection. First, flush the bite or wound area with water for at least one full minute. Follow up by washing with soap (or detergent if soap is not immediately available) to remove saliva containing the virus. Then apply a disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol, bleach, or iodine tincture directly on the wound and under skin flaps to stop the rabies from being absorbed into the body tissue. Then get to your doctor or an emergency room as soon as possible.

7. How is rabies diagnosed in animals and humans?
A direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA) is used to test the brain tissue of animals suspected to be rabid. However, the dFA test can only be performed after the animal has died. For humans, several tests are required to diagnose rabies. Samples of body tissues and fluids - saliva, spinal fluid, serum, and hair follicles - are tested for signs of the rabies virus. Positive results from one test is not proof of rabies, all tests are required for diagnosis.

8. Can baby animals have rabies?
Babies born to a healthy rabies-free mother will be rabies free at birth. Babies born to a rabid mother will most likely have rabies, because it is exposed to the mother’s saliva. These babies will probably not survive long enough to go out into the world. Teach your children to never touch wildlife. Call the authorities or your local wildlife rehabilitator if you find a wild baby animal that seems to be orphaned and in need of human intervention.

9. How do I protect myself and my pets from rabies?

  • Have a veterinarian vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies. By law, you need to do this every year, or every three years, depending on the type of vaccine used.
  • Keeping your pets vaccinated protects you and them.
  • Keep pets away from wildlife and don’t let them wander loose through the neighborhood.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals and with dogs and cats you do not know. Do not try to hand-feed wild animals and do not keep them as pets.
  • Do not touch sick or injured animals. Call and report them to the authorities.

10. How do I prevent the spread of rabies?

Be a responsible pet owner and have all your pets vaccinated once a year.

  • Keep your pets confined and supervised.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to prevent the spread of unwanted and unvaccinated animals straying through your neighborhood.
  • Enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes from afar. Do not handle, feed, or attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter. Do not leave pet food outside!
  • Do not rescue wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to raise orphaned wildlife. Call animal control or your local wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.

Provide your pets and livestock with rabies vaccine as advised by your family veterinarian. Keep rabies pet vaccines current.

Keep pets away from wildlife and don’t let them wander loose through the neighborhood.
Contact the proper authorities if you see an animal acting strangely. Never attempt to catch or touch the animal unless you are trained.

If your pet is bitten by an animal, call the animal authorities and take your pet to the vet.

If a person is bitten by an animal (whether it is from a wild skunk caught foraging in the trash or a nip on the hand from a neighbor’s pet), clean the wound thoroughly and go to your doctor or medical clinic for treatment. Contact the authorities who will try to capture the animal for testing or quarantine.

Keep contact information handy for notifying the proper authorities about a possible rabid animal in the neighborhood.

Information and research provided by Birgit Sommer, licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the State of Texas and Director of the Rainbow Wildlife Rescue.


Additional information:
When it comes to rabies, ignorance can kill. Not just you or your pets, but innocent and healthy wildlife. Raccoons are the number one wild animal killed for rabies testing. Dogs and cats top the list of domestic animals killed for rabies testing. In both these and other animals, the vast majority are found NOT to have rabies.

They must pay with their lives because people have possibly been exposed to rabies by them. If these same people had taken precautions against possible exposure to rabies, these animals would still be alive. Don't be responsible for the death of an innocent animal. Learn about rabies and learn how to protect yourself, your family, your pets and our wildlife.

Raccoon rabies is a strain of rabies carried mainly by raccoons. Raccoon rabies is rabies. It can be spread to farm animals, pets and people through the saliva of an infected animal in the same ways as other strains of rabies. Raccoon rabies kills raccoons, other animals and humans in the same way as other strains of rabies do. The only difference is that it is spread primarily by raccoons.



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