Summertime is right around the corner. The anticipation of vacations, warm long days, and relaxation are just ahead. As we prepare to spend more time outside, Paul Pettit, Public Health Director of Genesee and Orleans Counties, would like to share a message with the community. “This is a good time to remind folks about the dangers of rabies and how to pre-vent humans and domestic pets from contracting this deadly disease. When spending time outdoors this summer, it is important not to feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats. Rabies is almost always fatal but the good news is that it’s 100% preventable.”
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The virus is usually transmitted through a bite or scratch of an infected animal. Rabies is most often seen among wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal (human/ warm-blooded animal) can be infected with rabies. Pets and livestock can also get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them against the infection.
In Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming Counties, there have been 37 animal specimens tested for rabies thus far in 2019. Of the 37 animals, 3 raccoons and 1 horse tested positive for rabies in Orleans County and 3 raccoons tested positive for rabies in Wyoming County. No animals have tested positive for the virus in Genesee County.
Although you cannot tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it, you may notice the animal acting strange. Sarah Balduf, Environmental Health Director of Genesee and Orleans Counties, shares what the common signs of rabies appear to be in animals. “Animals with rabies may show a variety of signs, including fearful-ness, aggression, affection, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, paralysis and seizures. Animals with rabies may lose their natural fear of humans, and display unusual behavior – for example, an animal that is usually only seen at night may be seen wandering in the daytime.” There is no treatment once the clinical signs of rabies appear. Infected animals usually die within one week after showing signs of rabies. Rabies infection of an animal can only be confirmed after death, through microscopic examination of the animal’s brain.
In humans, rabies may take up to three months to fully develop. The virus presents itself as flulike symptoms such as a fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and tiredness. Tingling, prickling, or itching around the bite area is also common. After a few days, neurological (brain/ nerve) symptoms develop including agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, hydrophobia (fear of water), hallucinations, insomnia, and partial paralysis.
If you are bitten, scratched or have contact with an animal you believe to be rabid, immediately wash the wound, seek medical attention and report the incident to your local county health department. A doctor or health department officials will determine if vaccination with rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is necessary. A person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated against rabies should get 4 doses of rabies vaccine; one dose right away, and additional doses on the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days. People who have weakened immune systems may require a fifth dose of vaccine, as determined by their doctor.
Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal. There is no cure, only prevention. Review these tips on how to keep you, your family, and your pets safe from rabies:
• Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats. This includes baby animals.
• Be sure your pet dogs, cats and ferrets as well as horses and valuable livestock animals are up-to- date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccination protects pets if they are exposed to rabid animals. Pets too young (less than 3 months) to be vaccinated should be kept indoors and allowed outside only under direct observation. • Keep family pets indoors at night. Don’t leave them outside unattended or let them roam free.
• Don’t attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored bird seed or other foods that may attract wild animals and tightly cap or put away garbage cans.
• Board up any openings to your attic, basement, porch or garage. Cap your chimney with screens.
• Be aware that bats have small, sharp teeth and in certain situations people can be bitten and not know it. Do not release a bat when found in a room with a person or pet sleeping or unable to speak. If you are able to safely capture the bat, bring it to your county health department where it will be transferred to the state for rabies testing.
Click here to watch a video on how to safely capture a bat.
• Teach children not to touch any animal they do not know and to tell an adult immediately if they are scratched or bitten by any animal.
• If a wild animal is on your property, let it wander away. Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside. If possible, try to contain the wild animal.
• Anyone who has been bitten by any animal or who otherwise may have been exposed to rabies, needs to Capture and Call. If you can do so safely, being careful to not damage the head/brain, cap ture the animal and call your local health department or a doctor to report the incident. Capturing the animal is vital in order for it to be tested for rabies.
To protect your pets from rabies, please visit one of our upcoming anti-rabies clinics: • Genesee County: Thursday, August 15, 2019: Genesee County Fair Grounds, 5031 East Main Road, Batavia, 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. • Orleans County: Saturday, August 24, 2019: Town of Shelby Highway Building, 4062 Salt Works Road, Medina, 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. • Wyoming County: Thursday June, 13, 2019: Arcade Town Highway Department, 7340 NY-98, Arcade, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
For information about this article or health department services contact: • Genesee County Health Department: 344-2580 ext. 5555 or visit their website.