Separating fact from fiction in regard to rabies

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Pet owners are introduced to rabies when their veterinarians discuss the need for rabies vaccinations for their pets. But even after having their pets vaccinated, rabies may remain a mystery, especially in regard to which animals are known vectors.

Learning to distinguish rabies facts from fiction can keep pets and their families safe.

Rabies is one of the most deadly infections known to man. Thankfully, it is entirely preventable.

Rabies has been recognized since 2000 B.C. and contributes to approximately 59,000 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those deaths occur in Africa and Asia.

It is important to note that, in the United States, canine rabies has been nearly eradicated. So someone who acquires  rabies in the United States likely did so through contact with a wild animal.

Dogs also can contract rabies from wild animals if they are not up-to-date on their rabies vaccines. 

Another myth surrounding rabies concerns its transmission.

While rabies can be contracted through a bite, that is not the only way it’s transmitted. The virus can be transmitted when saliva enters any open wound or mucus membrane.

Licks or scratches from rabid animals also can transmit the virus, advises the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. Very rarely rabies can be contracted by exposure to an infected animal’s brain tissue, as rabies is a neurological disease.

Although rabies cannot be transmitted by simply petting an infected animal, it is best to play it safe and avoid all physical contact with any wild animals, particularly those that seem unwell.

Contact animal control officers if you suspect an animal may be rabid.

Various wild animals can spread rabies. Such animals include raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats.

A bite from a bat may not be obvious, so anyone who wakes up in a room with a bat or finds a bat with an unattended child should seek immediate medical attention as a precaution.

While many people believe opossums carry rabies, it is unlikely that they will, according to Terminix. It is believed their low body temperature and strong immune system makes an inhospitable habitat for rabies.

Hissing is a defense mechanism in opossums, not a sign of a rabid animal.

Signs of rabies in animals can include aggression, lack of balance, lethargy, paralysis, excessive salivation, and other abnormal behavior.

Just because a nocturnal animal is seen during the day does not necessarily mean it is rabid.

But extreme caution should be exercised in such instances.

If a person becomes infected with rabies, he or she should treat this as a medical emergency, says Total Veterinary Care.

Immediately wash the wound with soap and warm water for about 15 minutes and then seek medical attention.

A series of vaccines called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, can reduce the risk of contracting the virus and lessen the effects of any symptoms. Without treatment, rabies is nearly always fatal. (MC)

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