An infected animal’s saliva transmits the Rabies virus typically from a bite wound. Other less common modes of transmission include scratches, aerosolized into the respiratory tract or during human transplanting of organs. Unfortunately, Rabies is fatal once symptoms begin to manifest. It is imperative to begin rabies treatment before symptoms appear.
Worldwide, 69,000 people die every year from Rabies. Fortunately, Rabies cases in the United States are rare. There are only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Bats are the major source of Rabies transmission to humans in the United States. The CDC recommends Rabies treatment to any person encountering a bat, even if there is no bite exposure. In 2017, a five-year-old boy in Florida died from Rabies after a non-bite contact with a bat. Despite the low number of human Rabies cases within the United States, 25,000 to 40,000 people receive rabies treatment yearly in the United States after exposure to rabid or potentially rabid animals, especially animals that escape after biting.
A Rabies vaccine is available for prevention of the disease. Veterinarians, animal handlers and laboratory personnel, should consider routine immunization. Vaccinated individuals exposed to the Rabies virus only need to receive two doses of vaccines. One vaccine as soon after exposure as possible and the second vaccine three days later.
When to seek Rabies treatment:
- A bite from a vaccinated domestic animal does not warrant rabies treatment. However, in some states, public health officials require quarantining the pet for ten days to monitor for signs of Rabies.
- When deemed necessary by public health officials, the person should begin Rabies treatment immediately. In many of these cases, the animal is unavailable for testing, and the person must complete treatment. Treatment can be stopped if the animal is available and tests negative for Rabies.
- Any contact with a bat.
- Wash the wound with soap and water; cleaning with povidone solution or 70% alcohol will reduce transmission of the virus.
- Doctors administer a single injection of immunoglobins around the bite wound. In the event of a non-bite exposure, then the doctor injects the immunoglobin into the butt.
- After the immunoglobin injection, doctors give a series of five Rabies vaccine on day 1, 3, 7, 14 and 28.
Dr. Anna Coffin says the best way to protect yourself from exposure to Rabies is not to handle wildlife or stray animals. If you live within city limits, call the city animal control officer. For those living in the country, contact your local sheriff’s office or game warden. Don’t forget to vaccinate your dogs and cats for Rabies, even if they don’t go outside.