Most people probably think that rabies is no longer a problem in the 21st century, but the truth is that rabies remains a public health concern.
Rabies is caused by a virus that infects mammals, including humans.
It attacks the nervous system and is nearly always fatal if untreated.
Health departments in Wisconsin recently issued warnings to residents to take steps to prevent exposure to rabies.
The Milwaukee Health Department has confirmed a positive test of rabies in a bat that was captured after being found in a household and coming into contact with an adult.
Although no cases have been reported, the Mary Rosner, Marinette County Public Health Officer, is also making residents aware of the dangers of rabies.
Rabies can be transmitted to humans through a bite, scratch or when animal saliva comes into contact with broken skin.
If people find an animal that may be infected in a home, they should safely capture the animal until a health official can be consulted.
Officials also advise people to avoid contact with wild animals, vaccinate domestic dogs and cats against rabies, keep screens in good repair and close small openings which bats may enter.
People cannot acquire rabies simply by being in the same room as a rabid bat if they know that they had no physical contact with the animal. However, a nick from a bat's tooth or claw, such as when the bat flies into someone's face or arm, is all that is needed to transmit the rabies virus.
"Wild animals don't usually seek out contact with humans, but animals infected with rabies can behave strangely," Rosner said.
This poses risks to humans and domestic animals. Marinette County Public Health strongly cautions people not to approach stray animals, wildlife or bats.
"To protect yourself, your family and your pets from exposure to the rabies virus, you should follow these precautions," she said.
- Avoid domestic animals that are acting in a strange or unusual manner.
- Instruct children to avoid approaching any wild animal regardless of its behavior.
- Advise children to tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.
- Rabies is a disease of all mammals, including humans, and is always considered to be fatal without treatment. If you get an animal bite or scratch, flush the wound thoroughly with either water or a dilute povidoneiodine solution. This solution, available in drug stores, decreases the risk of bacterial infection.
- Immediately seek medical attention from your doctor or a hospital and report the incident to the local public health department so that appropriate quarantine or testing takes place.
Experts also advise:
- Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.
- Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.
- Be a responsible pet owner by keeping vaccinations current for all dogs, cats, and ferrets, keeping your cats and ferrets inside and your dogs under direct supervision, calling animal control to remove stray animals from your neighborhood, and consider having your pets spayed or neutered.
- Never approach or handle wildlife.
- Do not approach or handle unfamiliar dogs or cats.
- Consult your veterinarian about vaccinating sheep and cattle against rabies.
- If you are bitten by a wild animal (especially a bat, skunk, raccoon, or fox) or a dog, cat, ferret, or farm animal, contact your physician, local animal control agency, and local health department.
What is the truth about bats and rabies?
- Like most mammals, bats can contract rabies; however, the vast majority of bats are not infected, and even those that are normally bite only in self-defense and pose little threat to people who do not handle them. This is the number one reason to enforce the "look but don't touch" rule for all wildlife.
- An average of two people per year die from rabies in the U.S. The fear of rabies is far disproportionate to the actual risk. To put the risk in perspective: about 386,000 Americans are treated for dog bites each year and about 16 people die from the attacks.