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Sep 01

Rabies 101

Posted on September 1, 2022 at 8:12 AM by Bridget Craker

Rabies is an infectious disease that most people don’t think about often. This disease can be found among many different wild animals including bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Rabies impacts the central nervous system of an infected animal, ultimately causing disease in the brain. While rabies is very rare among humans in most countries, it is extremely deadly if a human does get this disease. Rabies can be spread to a human through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Pets, including dogs and cats, can get rabies from wild animals, and pass the virus on to humans.

Local public health departments, including Green County Public Health, work with community members, veterinarians, and law enforcement to prevent the spread of rabies, and to intervene when there is an animal bite or a need for rabies testing. In the event that someone is bitten by a pet or a wild animal, they should immediately wash the wound with soap and water, and consult their healthcare provider.

When someone in the county is bitten or scratched by a dog or cat, community members should call law enforcement. Local law enforcement will get in contact with our office and one of our Public Health Nurses follows up with the owner of the animal, and the person bit. Pets that are not vaccinated against rabies need to be quarantined at a veterinary office, whereas pets who are up to date with their rabies vaccination can quarantine at the owner’s home after they have bitten someone. During the quarantine period, pets are monitored for signs of rabies by a veterinarian.

If a person is bitten by a wild animal, the animal should be captured if it is safe to do so. Individuals should contact Green County Public Health when this happens. In the event that someone finds a bat in their home, they should also contact our department. This is especially important to do if the bat was in a room with pets or young children, or when someone wakes up from sleeping and finds a bat in their room.

One of the best ways that people can help prevent the spread of rabies is to be sure that their cat or dog is vaccinated against rabies and up-to-date on the rabies vaccine. By state statute, dogs are required to be vaccinated against rabies by the time they are 5 months old, and to get revaccinated before their previous vaccine expires. Pet owners should talk with their veterinarian about getting their dog or cat vaccinated.

Other ways that community members can help prevent rabies include:

  • Staying away from wild animals, especially those acting abnormally
  • Keeps pets on a leash when out for walks or outside your home
  • Exclude bats from homes by keeping screens in repair and closing any small openings
  • People traveling to countries where rabies is prevalent or those at high risk for exposure should talk with their doctor about PRE-exposure rabies vaccinations.

September 28th is World Rabies Day, which is a global day of observance meant to raise awareness about rabies. Each year, more than 59,000 people around the world die of rabies each year. In the United States there were around 100 deaths attributed to rabies each year in the early 1900s, since the 1960s this number has decreased to around 1 or 2 deaths per year in the U.S.  This large reduction in the number of rabies deaths each year is due to large scale pet vaccination programs, public health intervention and testing, and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rabies.