Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Domestic mammals can also acquire and transmit rabies. Cats, cattle, and dogs are the most frequently reported rabid domestic animals. The Ohio Department of Health’s Bureau of Infectious Diseases Zoonotic Disease Program reported 41 confirmed rabies cases in Ohio last year (2016). Of these 41 cases, 36 were bats, and 5 were raccoons.
What are the Symptoms?
The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. There may also be discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, progressing to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, insomnia, excess saliva production and difficulty swallowing. Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.
How is it transmitted?
People are exposed to rabies when they are bitten by an infected animal, or less commonly, when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or onto a mucous membrane. Any bite wound should be thoroughly washed with soap and water as soon as possible. Animal bite victims should also consult with their doctor as soon as possible.
What is being done to protect public health?
Physicians are required to report all animal bite cases to the local health department where the bite occurred. Ohio’s local health departments investigate more than 21,000 animal bite incidents annually. When a health department receives an animal bite report, we contact the animal owner to verify that the animal has had the rabies vaccine and order the animal to be quarantined for 10 days. This quarantine is generally done in the home of the owner. If the animal shows no signs of rabies by the end of the quarantine period, it can be safely assumed there is no need for prophylaxis (rabies shots). If there is an issue during the quarantine or the animal dies before the period is over, the local health department will send a sample to the Ohio Department of Health to have the animal tested for the virus. This test is done free of charge. Ohio’s last human rabies case was in 1970. Clearly the program is working.
What can you do help prevent this fatal disease?
Avoid – contact with wild animals and animals you do not know.
Call – your doctor if you are bitten.
Call – your veterinarian if your pet fought with a wild animal.
Vaccinate – your dogs, cats and ferrets for rabies and keep them current.
Where can you get a low-cost rabies vaccine?
The Ohio Valley Animal Clinic and the Meigs County Health Department are hosting a low-cost rabies clinic for cats and dogs on June 17 from 9 a.m. to noon at the health department. The cost is $5 per animal. Everyone is welcome. For more information contact the health department at 740-992-6626.
Dawn Keller specializes in environmental health with the Meigs County Health Department.
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