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First, what is rabies and how do you get it?

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes. It has been suggested that airborne transmission is possible in caves where there are heavy concentrations of bats.

World Rabies Day-September 28 Image/GARC
World Rabies Day-September 28

What types of animals are considered high risk for having the virus?

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

How do infected animals appear?

They can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may looks like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Today is World Rabies Day 2017- Click HERE to see what’s going on

What type of symptoms will it cause in humans?

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Now you know about the symptoms of rabies, you know which animals are most likely to be at risk for having this deadly virus and how these animals may or may not act. The next step is understanding prevention. The animals that carry rabies are ever present throughout the country. You should take precautions to prevent attracting wild animals to your home and teach your children to respect strange domesticated animals.

LISTEN: Everything you wanted to know about rabies

Dogs are the number one cause of animal bites.

The Florida Department of Health gives the following recommendations on how to protect your family and pets from rabies:

o Make sure you have your dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated against rabies, and to follow your veterinarian’s instructions for revaccination.
o If you have a farm or ranch, ensure your horses and cattle are also vaccinated.
o Avoid contact with wild animals, never feed wild or stray animals
o Do not leave your pet’s food outside. Keep lids on garbage cans.
o If you have a pet door, ensure that it can be closed at night (skunks are notorious for coming into homes this way).
o Do not allow your pets to run free. Follow leash laws.
o If your animal is attacked by a wild, stray or unvaccinated animal, DO NOT examine your pet for injuries without wearing gloves. Wash your pet with soap and water to remove saliva from the attacking animal. Do not let your animal come into contact with other animals or people until the situation can be dealt with by Animal Control or the County Health Department.

You are always vigilant and try to avoid wild animals and unknown dogs and cats. However, one day you are out with the kids or walking the dogs and out of nowhere you are attacked by crazed dog. You beat it away but it takes a nasty bite out of you. What should you do?

First, clean the wound well with soap and water for 5-10 minutes. This will help reduce the chance of getting other bacterial infections and some studies show it can reduce the likelihood of getting rabies. Next, get good description of the animal for Animal Control so it can be picked up for quarantine or rabies testing.


Go see your family physician or the emergency room. Though technically not a medical emergency, it is important to seek medical attention quickly so proper, timely treatment is given. If you have to shoot or otherwise kill the animal, take care not to damage the head. The brain will be required for rabies testing.

Your doctor will evaluate the type of exposure (bite, scratch), and the type of animal that you had contact with. If post-exposure treatment is required it will likely be a combination of Rabies Immune Globulin (RIG) and Rabies vaccine. The RIG is given in one dose. RIG is basically pre-formed antibody that will provide immediate protection until you respond to the vaccine. The vaccine will help your body produce antibody to the virus, but this takes some time.

According to the CDC, the RIG should, if possible, be given around the wound itself. Any remaining RIG should be given intramuscularly away from the bite. Rabies vaccine is not like the old days, 20 shots in the stomach; instead it is four shots in the shoulder area.

Keeping your eyes open and keeping informed is the best way to prevent this deadly disease.

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