Weekly Feature

2017-07-13 / Editorial

Rabies precautions necessary in warmer weather

Warmer days are here, and with everyone spending more time outdoors, there is an increased likelihood of encountering a wild animal. Unfortunately, it is also the most likely time of year to encounter a rabid wild animal or to be bitten by a bat that has made its way inside your home.

As the 2016-17 winter was mild, more wildlife and insects survived than usual. A significant number of abandoned raccoon and fox pups have already been reported, along with both pups and mothers testing positive for rabies.

Very often, well-intentioned individuals attempt to help young wildlife that appear to be orphaned. However, the best thing to do is leave wildlife alone. Handling these animals may result in them inadvertently being euthanized, and anyone who handled them would need to undergo post-exposure anti-rabies vaccinations, as they may have exposed themselves and others to rabies. In addition, if your pet is involved with a suspected rabid animal, do not handle the dog with bare hands following the incident. There is the possibility of getting your pet’s saliva on your hands. Wait a few hours, and then bathe the animal while wearing protective gloves.

In addition to young wildlife possibly carrying the rabies virus, the many species of bats that live in Erie County can carry rabies. Rabid bats frequently lose their ability to fly and may be found on the ground or in water, making them more likely to come into contact with people or pets. A healthy bat typically avoids any contact with humans or animals and will not be found resting on the ground. Bats with rabies are often disoriented, increasing the likelihood that they accidentally end up inside a dwelling. “Rabies is transmitted when an infected animal bites or scratches a person’s skin,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “Even a minor scratch or simply touching an animal may be enough to transmit the rabies virus from animal to human.”

Bat bites may not be noticed because bat teeth are very tiny and razor sharp, and a bat bite can be no larger than a needle prick. Rabies-infected wildlife, such as raccoons, carry rabies and transmit infection, without necessarily a bite. Any direct contact with a bat or other potentially rabies infected wildlife should be considered a possible rabies exposure.

Erie County residents should contact the county’s Department of Health with questions about possible rabies exposure. Since rabies is nearly always fatal, it is important to take aggressive precautions to prevent the development of disease.

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