The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.
The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly. Staggering, convulsions and paralysis are often present. Dogs sometimes will have paralysis of their jaw and not close their mouth properly. Skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house. Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone.
An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies.
Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals -- especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.
If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician and county health unit immediately and report the incident.
The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further exposure.
If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. Since there are not known time intervals for the length of infectivity in other animals, the brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.
What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
- Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations
- Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals
- Keep family pets indoors at night
- Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter (The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.)
- Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them
- Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well
Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the local health unit. Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.
For more information, call the Faulkner County Health Unit at 501-450-4941 or Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian, at 501- 280-4136.