Rabies – What is it?
Rabies is a preventable infectious virus that attacks the central nervous system of all mammals, including humans, causing swelling of the brain (encephalitis) and ultimately death. Although rabies is rare in humans, death for animals will usually occur within several days and smaller animals die more rapidly. Rabies is generally transmitted by the saliva of infected animals, most commonly through bites or scratches.
In Montana, skunks and bats account for more than 90 percent of all reported cases. The distribution of rabies is statewide in Montana. For more information, check out this rabies map: http://liv.mt.gov/ah/diseases/rabies/default.mcpx#Incidence.
What to do if a human is bit by an animal suspected to have rabies?
All animal bites or scratches should be treated as if the animal carries rabies until proven otherwise. An animal with up to date rabies immunizations is considered non rabid. Potential actions for domestic animals suspected of rabies could include:
- Booster of rabies vaccination
- 45 day observation
- 180 day quarantine
After a bite, humans should immediately wash the affected area with soap and water for 15 minutes and seek medical attention. The health care professional will determine the next steps. Treatment, known as post-exposure prophylaxis, consists of a combination of rabies antiserum and a series of vaccinations. People at risk for exposure to rabid animals, either through work or travel, can be vaccinated. The pre-exposure vaccination is a series of 3 shots given over the course of one month. For more information, go here. In addition, don’t forget to get your tetanus up to date.
The State of Montana requires that all animal bites be reported, and the Gallatin City-County Health Department receives these reports and coordinates follow-up with the victim and Animal Control to ensure that no further threat exists. For Animal Bite Reporting Forms go here.
How can I tell if an animal has rabies?
Abnormal behavior is the most consistent sign of the disease in animals. Animals may become shy, unapproachable and hide, or they may become aggressive with a sudden attack. Other signs include:
- Frothing at the mouth
- Staggering, convulsions
In people, rabies first manifests with general, nonspecific flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, fever, or headache. As the disease progresses, patients may experience:
- Mental dysfunction
- Abnormal behavior
- Death generally occurs 1-2 weeks after the onset of symptoms, although the incubation period can be as long as 90 days.
What to do if my animal was bitten by an animal suspicious of rabies?
Contact your veterinarian or health department. Remember to have your animals vaccinated: dogs, cats, and ferrets! Puppies should have a rabies vaccination before 6 months in age, then a booster by age 1. Adult dogs are required to have a rabies vaccination every 3 years.
Montana Department of Livestock recommends that all dogs, cats, and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies, however there is no statewide vaccination requirement in Montana. Rabies vaccination requirements are regulated by individual cities and counties. Please consult your veterinarian for local regulations.
How to prevent an animal bite?
- Be a responsible pet owner by keeping pets vaccinated, keep animals under direct supervision, and call animal control or county Sheriff’s to remove stray animals.
- Enjoy wildlife from a distance.
- Conduct a thorough inspection of your residence and property: Eliminate attractants that draw wildlife (pet food, garbage cans without lids, etc.); block entry points wild animals might use to access foundations, porches, steps and roofs; use night or motion lights to discourage nocturnal animals. Managing wild animals that most commonly carry the disease can reduce your risk of exposure.