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 animals account for less than 10 percent of the reported rabies cases, with cats, cattle and dogs most often reported rabid.
Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year in the1990’s. Modern day prophylaxis has proven nearly 100 percent successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure.
There is no treatment for rabies after symptoms of the disease appear.
- Be a responsible pet owner:
- Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets. This requirement is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection to you if your animal is bitten by a rabid wild animal.
- Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.
- Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
- Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
- Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals:
- Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes) from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
- Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
- Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn.
- Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas, where they might come in contact with people and pets. Find out more about potential rabies exposure from bats.
- When traveling abroad, avoid direct contact with wild animals and be especially careful around dogs in developing countries. Rabies is common in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where dogs are the major reservoir of rabies. Tens of thousands of people die of rabies each year in these countries. Before traveling abroad, consult with a health care provider, travel clinic, or your health department about the risk of exposure to rabies, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and how you should handle an exposure, should it arise.
Exposure to bats
In general, if you find an injured, sick, or dead bat, do not touch it. If you need assistance, contact Fort Worth Animal Care and Control.
Bat bites are not always visible, so situations in which a bat is physically present and there is a possibility of an unapparent exposure, the bat should be captured and submitted to a rabies laboratory for testing.
Immediately call your local animal control agency to have a trained officer sent to capture the bat. If you are unable to reach anyone for assistance, recommendations for bat capture are as follows:
- remove any children or pets from the room;
- wear leather gloves;
- avoid direct contact between the bat and bare skin;
- confine the bat to one room by closing the windows and doors;
- turn on the lights if the room is dark;
- wait for the bat to land;
- cover the bat with a coffee can or similar container;
- slide a piece of cardboard under the can that has the bat trapped; and tape the cardboard directly to the can.
If any possible contact between the bat and a person or domestic animal has occurred:
- do not release the bat;
- contact your local animal control agency or law enforcement agency to arrange for immediate submission of the bat for rabies testing.
If you are certain no contact between the bat and a person or domestic animal has occurred:
- take the container outside immediately; and
- release the bat, preferably at night and away from populated areas.
What to do after a possible exposure
If you are exposed to a potentially rabid animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and seek medical attention immediately. A health care practitioner will care for the wound and will assess the risk for rabies exposure. The following information will help your health care practitioner assess your risk:
- the geographic location of the incident
- the type of animal that was involved
- how the exposure occurred (provoked or unprovoked)
- the vaccination status of animal
- whether the animal can be safely captured and tested for rabies
After your health care practitioner is contacted, you must contact the Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Division to begin an investigation and check the biting animal for symptoms of rabies. Steps taken by the health care practitioner will depend on the circumstances of the bite.
Your health care practitioner should consult state or local health departments, veterinarians or animal control officers to make an informed assessment of the incident and to request assistance.
If you’ve been bitten by an animal seek medical attention immediately, then contact the Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Division to report the bite incident.
Code Compliance is in the process of reviewing animal ordinances.
The Animal Task Force reviewed operations and adherence of procedures and laws from December through March.
Chuck Silcox Animal Care & Control Center
4900 Martin St.
Fort Worth, TX 76119
Dr. Tim Morton