Don’t Get Bit: Rabies and How It Spreads
By: Christopher Baumgartner, Supervisor of Animal Control & Stephanie Wohl, MSN, RN, Communicable Disease Prevention Coordinator at Springfield-Greene County Health
Earlier this month, a fox made national headlines for biting at least nine people in Washington D.C. Local animal control and the D.C. health department were able to determine that, unfortunately, the fox did have rabies. This incident has many people asking, how common is rabies these days, and how can we keep our families and pets safe?
As the weather begins to warm and we start spending more time outdoors, encounters with wild animals become more common for both people and their pets. In Missouri, the most prevalent carriers of rabies are bats and skunks, but any mammal can be infected by the virus. Signs of rabies include altered behavior, weakness, stumbling and convulsing, but it may not always be obvious that an animal is rabid. And sadly, almost all cases of rabies eventually result in death.
Rabies is spread through the saliva of infected mammals. Most commonly, this would be through a bite, but licks, scratches, or other contact with salvia can result in transmission. Therefore, the best way to prevent contracting rabies is to avoid all contact with wild animals.
Another way pet owners can prevent their pets from contracting rabies is to ensure that their dogs, cats, ferrets and other mammals are up to date on their rabies vaccines. Not only is it required by law, but it will help prevent your pets from contracting rabies and causing “spillover” exposures if they encounter a wild animal and then bite a human.
Such as the incident with the fox in Washington D.C., avoiding wildlife encounters may not always be possible.
If you are bitten, scratched or exposed to the saliva of a wild animal, you should clean the affected area with soap and warm water for 10 to 15 minutes and seek medical attention to determine with treatment is needed. Animal control should also be informed so they can assist with possible quarantine and testing of the animal.
It may be tempting to touch or feed an animal that approaches you or to provide aid to an injured animal. There are countless videos online of people approaching or feeding wild animals, interacting with them when approached or improperly handling injured animals. However, these encounters can have serious consequences.
If it is determined that an animal should be captured and tested for rabies, the only method available requires the animal to be euthanized first. Moreover, the post-exposure treatment for people exposed to rabies is very effective, but very expensive. The fast-acting rabies immune globulin and the five-dose post-exposure vaccine spread over 28 days can cost up to $6,500, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. This doesn’t consider the cost for hospital treatment or wound care.
If you encounter an injured animal or an animal showing signs of rabies within Springfield city limits, contact Springfield-Greene County Animal Control immediately at 417–833–3592. In emergency situations, call 9–1–1.
No Greene County residents have died of rabies in several years, but we know that the virus exists in our community. Responsible pet ownership, safe interactions with wildlife and proper response when a potential exposure occurs can help keep our community safe.