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Rabies is preventable

July 12, 2012
The Daily News

A Marinette County resident contacted Public Health to ask questions regarding an exposure to a bat while camping.

During the conversation, it was determined that this individual was possibly exposed to rabies. The bat was submitted to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene Rabies Unit and was found to test positive for rabies.

Rabies is nearly 100 percent fatal without treatment, said Mary Rosner, Marinette County Public Health Officer.

Contracting rabies virus after an exposure can be prevented by seeking preventative medical care consisting of rabies immune globulin and the rabies vaccination series.

This person's life was saved through preventive medical care and the timely testing of the specimen by the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene.

Although bats can be reservoirs for the rabies virus, they also play a very important role in our environment.

The little brown bat, common in Wisconsin, can ingest up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Bats also help pollinate our gardens and trees, in addition to consuming insects that are damaging to crops.

The primary reservoirs of the rabies virus in Wisconsin are bats and skunks, Rosner said.

Domestic animals become infected from exposure to these wildlife reservoirs.

The last four cases of human rabies in Wisconsin occurred in 1959, 2000, 2004, and 2010.

Rabies vaccinations for pets are instrumental in controlling the spread of the virus in domestic animals.

Health Departments in Marinette and Florence County are reminding pet owners to keep their pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.

"If your dog or cat bites someone, Wisconsin law requires that the animal be quarantined for 10 days so that it can be observed for signs and symptoms of rabies," said Annette Seibold, Director of Florence County Health Department.

"Unvaccinated animals must be held at an isolation facility and be examined by a licensed veterinarian on the first day, the last day and one intervening day of the observation period," Seibold said. "The pet owner will be responsible for costs associated with the quarantine of the animal."

Vaccinated animals that bite someone are also required to be quarantined for 10 days and be examined at the same intervals by a veterinarian; however a vaccinated animal may be kept on the premises of the owner during the quarantine period.

To avoid these costs and potential hazards:

- Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date.

- Keep pets indoors and supervise pets outside.

- Abide by all local leash laws.

While any warm-blooded animal can carry and transmit rabies, most cases are seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and bats.

Any of these species seen acting in an unusual manner should be considered to be rabid, and people should avoid contact with these animals, Seibold said.

A change in the expected behavior of the animal is the most consistent sign of rabies, she said.

Signs and symptoms can include aggressive behavior, irritability, daytime activity in animals normally active at night, staggering, weakness or paralysis, inability to eat or drink, drooling, convulsions, and frothing at the mouth.

- Teach children to be cautious of wildlife and the dangers of rabies

- Always be careful around unknown animals, including strays and other people's pets.

- Do not feed pets outside. Pet food attracts wildlife that may carry rabies.

- Do not feed wildlife, feral cats or feral dogs.

- Secure garbage cans with wildlife-proof lids.

- If a bite does occur, seek medical care and report the incident to the sheriff's department and the local health department right away. If the animal is a pet, get the owner's name, address, and phone number, if possible. This information will aid the health department as they monitor the situation.

- If the animal is a wild animal or stray dog or cat, contact the local animal-control authorities. They will attempt to safely capture the animal for examination. The victim or other bystanders should not attempt to capture or subdue the animal. This might lead to further bites or exposures.

- For more information call the Florence County Health Department at 715-528-4837. Marinette County residents may call Public Health at 715-732-7670.



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