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Rabies (Also known as “hydrophobia”)

Rabies in Wildlife by Percentage
The occurrence of rabies in domestic and wild animals in USA between 2002-2005

What is rabies and what causes it?
Rabies is a severely fatal viral disease that can aff ect all mammals, including humans. Infection results in damage to the nervous system and death. Rabies occurs worldwide. In the U.S. only 2 or 3 human cases of rabies occur each year and are usually associated with exposure to bats. In animals, over 7,000 cases are reported each year in the U.S.

Rabies virus causes an acute encephalitis in all warm-blooded hosts, including humans, and the outcome is almost always fatal. Although all species of mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, only a few species are important as reservoirs for the disease. In the United States, several distinct rabies virus variants have been identified in terrestrial mammals, including raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. In addition to these terrestrial reservoirs, several species of insectivorous bats are also reservoirs for rabies.

What animals get rabies?
All mammals can get rabies. In the U.S., wildlife species such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the major reservoirs for the virus. Rabies in domestic animal species has been reported for dogs, cats, cattle, horses, but any mammal can get the disease if exposed to the virus. Bats are another important reservoir for rabies.

How can my animal get rabies?
Rabies is most commonly spread by the bite (direct contact) of an infected animal whose saliva contains the virus. It has also been spread between animals by the ingestion (oral) of unpasteurized milk. The virus is not thought to be spread by blood, urine or feces.

How does rabies affect my animal?
Since the rabies virus aff ects the brain of animals, signs of rabies involve changes in behavior. Infected animals may show unusual aggression, friendliness or be fearful. Other signs include restlessness, paralysis of their legs, diffi culty swallowing, drooling and a change in the sound of their voice. They may overreact to stimuli such as noises or lights. Any animal infected with rabies will die in 7 to 10 days.

Can I get rabies?
Yes. People can get rabies from the bite (direct contact) of an infected animal. Other less common routes of exposure include contact with the brain or spinal cord fl uid of infected animal or inhaling virus aerosolized from infected tissues. A limited number of human cases have occurred from organ transplants. In most human cases, signs of rabies do not develop until 1 to 3 months after exposure. Early symptoms include fever, headache, itching at the site of the bite, confusion and abnormal behavior. Infected people will be overstimulated by light and sounds and have diffi culty swallowing. Once signs of disease begin, recovery is very rare and death usually occurs within 2 to 10 days. Fortunately, treatment before signs develop is highly eff ective and life-saving.

Who should I contact, if I suspect rabies?
In Animals – Contact your veterinarian immediately.
In Humans – Contact your physician immediately.

How can I protect my animal from rabies?
Prevention is the best way to stop rabies. Animals should be vaccinated for rabies and kept away from wildlife. Bats caught by cats should be sent in for testing. Dogs, cats or ferrets that have bitten humans and show no signs of illness may be observed for rabies under veterinary supervision for 10 days. If signs of rabies develop during this time, the animal must be euthanized and tested.

How can I protect myself from rabies?
Do not contact, handle or feed wildlife. Animals behaving abnormally (nocturnal animals wandering around in the daytime or wildlife acting exceptionally friendly) should especially be avoided. Bats that are found in the "living space" of your home should be sent for testing. Do not pick up bats that are laying on the ground. If you are bitten by any animal, wash the wound well with soap and hot water. If you suspect rabies in the animal that bit you, contact your physician immediately, so post-exposure treatment can be started.

For More Information
Rabies at CDC website.
Bats and Rabies Brochure

Thanks to The Center for Food Security and Public Health for this information

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