Rabies is a deadly disease and a major public health threat. It is a virus that infects warm-blooded animals and is common in North American wildlife. The disease is common in bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes. The virus is transmitted through saliva and is usually spread by the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Exposures occur through contact with wildlife or with domestic animals exposed to rabid animals. State law requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies. The Environmental Section of the local Health Department is responsible for investigating animal bites. If the animal has bitten someone or a pet and the animal dies, the Sanitarian is responsible for packaging the animal head for delivery to the nearest hygienic laboratory for analysis of rabies.
If a person or a pet comes in contact with a suspect rabid animal, it is important to establish the owner or location of that animal.
If a suspect animal is killed, the head should not be damaged as the brain is necessary for examination for rabies.
If a suspect animal is killed and cannot be examined immediately, the animal must be refrigerated, not frozen. Refrigerated, could mean in a cardboard box with ice. The intent is to keep the animal from decomposing. Always handle any suspect animal with rubber gloves.
If a person comes into contact with a rabid animal or a suspect animal, the hands or area in contact should be thoroughly washed with soap and water. The person should consult with a physician about the degree of contact and necessity of rabies vaccination.
If a pet comes in contact with a suspected rabid animal, do not handle or examine the pet with bare hands as saliva from the suspect animal may be on the pet's fur. Always use rubber gloves for contact or examination.
If a pet comes in contact with a suspect rabid animal, the pet should be quarantined (quarantined means double confined, that is, tied up and in a pen) away from contact with people or other pets until the status of the suspect animal can be determined.
If a pet comes in contact with a rabid or suspect animal and that pet has a current rabies vaccination (within the past two years) that pet should receive a booster vaccination.
If a pet comes in contact with a rabid or suspect animal and that pet does not have a current rabies vaccination, then that pet must either be destroyed or quarantined (double confined) for a period of six months, with the rabies vaccination in the fifth month.
If a person is bitten by any pet or animal, the wound should be washed with soap and water and a physician should be consulted.
If the biting animal is a pet, it should be quarantined (double confined) for a period of 10 days for observation. If it dies within this period, the head should be submitted for examination.
If the biting animal is wild or stray and not available for quarantine or examination, that animal should be considered to be rabid and a physician should be consulted.