Do you know what to do if you ever encounter an animal that is suspected to have the rabies virus?
The first step is to contact your local animal control office. The Alameda County Vector Control recommends that you do not touch the animal, especially if it is a skunk or bat: both are high-risk carriers for the rabies virus although all mammals are susceptible to the virus as well. The signs and symptoms of infection include the following: fever, seizures, paralysis, lack of coordination, change in attitude, and hypersalivation. However, the virus is not always symptomatic at first contact. In dogs, it can take anywhere from 8-9 days all the way to 6 months for symptoms to appear in some reported cases. In cats, it can take up to 24 hours before signs of the virus affecting the body appear.
Rabies Exposure or Potential to the Rabies Virus
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva from the infected host. If you are bitten by an animal that is not rabies vaccinated or is a potential carrier for the virus, it is not to be taken lightly. Rabies is a fatal virus and there are only three reported cases in the United States of someone surviving the virus without previously receiving a rabies vaccine. In the event that an incident occurs, you should go to your physician immediately and keep the wound clean. The standard procedure is to start post-exposure prophylaxis, which is a series of rabies vaccinations based on your type of exposure. If you are bitten by a dog or cat, whether they are rabies vaccinated or not, Alameda County requires that the pet be quarantined for 10 days. If the pet has been exposed to a potential rabies carrier (bats or skunks) and the pet is not up to date on their rabies vaccine, then the dog or cat is to be quarantined for 6 months. The quarantine process can be expensive and traumatizing to the animal; in some cases, animal control may let you quarantine your pet at your house. In the case that the pet is cleared after quarantine and has not shown any signs, then Alameda County requires proof of rabies vaccination and licensing of the pet. In the case of the animal being symptomatic for rabies while in quarantine, then the standard procedure is to humanely euthanize the animal and to send the animal's head in to the public health lab. For household pets, this is a paid service by the owners required by the county; if it is a wild animal, then the county will pay for the service as part of its public health services.
Vaccinate! Vaccinate! Vaccinate! All pets living in your household that have the potential to be infected by rabies should receive annual or tri-annual rabies vaccinations. If you work in an area with a high potential for rabies infection, then you yourself should be rabies vaccinated in case of exposure. If you come into contact with a potential rabies-infected animal or an animal known to be a carrier, do not handle these animals under any circumstance! Contact your local animal control or public health center if you are ever unclear about what to do in a situation where rabies is involved.
Written by Amber Post Lead RVT at Groveway Veterinary Hospital
Alameda County Vector Control. http://acvcsd.org/.
Brown, Catherine M., Sally Slavinski, Paul Ettestad, Tom J. Sidwa, and Faye E. Sorhage. "Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2016." Public Veterinary Medicine 248, no. 5 (March 1, 2016). http://nasphv.org/Documents/NASPHVRabiesCompendium.pdf.
Carollo, Kim. "California Girl Only Third in U.S. to Survive Rabies Without Vaccine." ABC News. June 14, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/california-girl-us-survive-rabies/story?id=13830407.
“When should I seek medical attention?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/.