Rabies: How to Prevent it and What to Do if You Get Bitten
Rabies infections in people are rare in the United States. However, nationally, there are about 7,000 rabies cases each year in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though rabies is lethal, the good news is that it’s preventable.
Passed to a person through an infected animal’s saliva by licking, scratching, or biting, the rabies virus can leave some animals entirely symptom free. This is contrary to the stereotype of an animal that is acting sick or foaming at the mouth, so it is important to be cautious around any unknown animal, whether wild or domestic.
In addition to taking precautions, the single best way to protect your pet and your family from rabies is to have your cat, dog, or ferret vaccinated and to ensure that the vaccine is up to date. Animals must be at least three months of age or older to be vaccinated.
Some other ways to protect yourself, your pets and your family from rabies are:
- Confine your pets. Keep your pets confined to your home or yard and walk them on a leash.
- Do not encourage wild animals to be near or in your house. Skunks, foxes, bats, groundhogs, and raccoons are key rabies carriers. Feed pets inside the house. Keep garbage in tightly-closed trash cans. Cap chimneys and seal off any openings in attics, under porches, in basements and in outbuildings.
- Do not attempt to keep wild animals as pets. Even a baby skunk or raccoon born in captivity can carry rabies.
- Don’t use bare hands to pick up or touch an animal. If you have to touch a dead animal, protect your hands with heavy plastic (gloves or trash bag).
- Stranger danger. Stay away from all wild animals and unknown dogs and cats— even if they appear friendly— and teach your children to do the same.
- Report strange animals. If you see a roaming or stray animal, notify your local health department or animal control.
- When in doubt, call a doctor. If your child is too young to adequately describe the animal incident, call a doctor. Additionally, do not try to decide on your own whether an animal is rabid or if a bite is dangerous.
If you or your child has been bitten by an animal:
- Clean. Wash the bite area with soap and water. Cover the bite with a clean bandage.
- Call. Call your doctor immediately and go to a nearby hospital emergency room or urgent care facility.
- Report. Report the incident to animal control authorities. They may need to find the animal, keep it and watch for signs of rabies. If you know the animal’s owner, get their name, address, and telephone number as well as the name and address of the veterinarian who last vaccinated the animal against rabies. The local health department should also be notified, especially if the animal is not currently vaccinated.
Remember, we can all do our part to ensure the safety of ourselves, our families and our pets by taking these few precautions.
For more information on rabies prevention, visit http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/prevention/animals.html.
By Leslie Sinclair, D.V.M., Medical Director of the Baltimore County Animal Services Division
Baltimore County Department of Health