World Rabies Day is September 28 and I can’t think of a better time to talk about this deadly disease. Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system. Rabies can affect all mammals, including humans. Besides from rabies being transmitted through bites/saliva and blood contact, Rabies can possibly be transmitted through bat guano. There is no cure for Rabies once the animal has become infected. Some animals will show no signs of rabies other than death. Signs of rabies are grouped into two forms known as either the “furious” or “paralytic”. Think of Old Yeller and Cujo when familiarizing yourself with signs of “furious” rabies. Aggression, loss of fear, daytime activity by nocturnal species, attraction to noise and human activity, excess vocalization, dilated pupils, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, restlessness, and/or biting at objects and other animals can all be a sign of furious rabies. The paralytic form of rabies is also known as the “dumb” form. Signs of paralytic rabies can include: decreased activity, incoordination, hind limb weakness, acting dull. Cats may meow excessively. As the disease progresses, the lower jaw may drop, inability to swallow, and paralysis can happen before death. Drooling can be seen in both forms of rabies. Animals can transmit the rabies virus before clinical signs start. The incubation period is known at the time from when the animal is exposed to the Rabies virus up until the animal becomes sick and capable and infecting other mammals. This period of time can vary from as little as two weeks up to a year later.
Rabies is a health concern no matter where you live. To this day, there are 2-3 people each year that die from Rabies in the United States.
According to the PA Department of Health, Franklin and Cumberland Counties saw the following animals test positive for Rabies:
In 2015, there was 6 raccoons, 3 cats, 3 bats, 5 skunks, 1 cow and 1 horse.
In 2016, there was 4 raccoons, 3 cats, 1 bat, 5 skunks, 2 foxes, 1 groundhog, 1 dog, and 3 cows.
To view any previous PA rabies reports, go here.
Rabies vaccines are the only way to prevent the disease. All states require up to date rabies vaccinations for all dogs and cats starting at 3 months of age. Pennsylvania only requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated but there are also rabies vaccines for ferrets, horses and cattle. Although, if you ride horses on state game land, they may have special requirements. It is best to contact the forest district or state game land area involved to get a list of their rules and regulations for the specific area in which you wish to ride. If you travel to other states (or countries) with your animals, you definitely need to check with that particular state’s laws.
How to protect yourself:
- Make sure all your pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines.
- Don’t approach wild or unknown animals.
- Wear gloves, goggles and a breathing mask when cleaning areas like an attic or other locations where bat guano could be found.
- If scratched or bitten by an animal, immediately wash the area with soap and water and then seek medical attention.
The virus can survive on inanimate objects as long as it takes for saliva and blood to completely dry. Sunlight and most disinfectants can kill the virus. Freezing and moisture can help preserve it.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that every bat found inside a building or home be tested for rabies because it is possible to be bitten by a bat and not even know it.
The only way to test for rabies is to euthanize the animal and have the brain tissue submitted to an approved laboratory for rabies testing. Therefore, if there is a wild animal acting strange, it is best to contact the game commission to handle the situation. They will be able to euthanize the animal in such a way as to maintain the integrity of the brain so that the laboratory can recognize the anatomical parts and test the appropriate areas. If it is a domestic animal, in most cases, they will be quarantined for a predetermined amount of time. If a domestic animal has been attacked by a suspected rabid animal, the length of quarantine depends on the rabies vaccination status.
With such a dangerous and fatal disease, it is best to not take your chances and keep you, and your pets, safe with vaccines and staying away from unknown animals.