Protecting Yourself Against Rabies

Most of us love looking at wild animals in their natural habitat. But unfortunately, some animals are carrying rabies, a dangerous virus that you can get if you handle or are bitten by the critters. Here, from the experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are some tips on what you should know about rabies so you can protect yourself, your family and your pets:

Each year 30,000 to 40,000 people in the U.S. require a series of post-bite shots because of potential exposure to rabies. More than 90% of all animal rabies cases reported to the CDC annually occur in wild animals; most of them are raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats.
While very few people die from rabies, victims have to get immediate medical attention; otherwise, the situation can be life-threatening.

The best way to protect yourself and your family, the CDC says, is not to feed or handle wild animals, even if they are approachable. In fact, health and animal-care experts say, animals who are rabid are actually often tame and friendly. They may also move slowly enough for you to get close to them.

Other signs of rabies in an animal health experts say, include appearing disoriented, making hoarse sounds and showing signs of paralysis. If you see any wild animals showing these symptoms, call your local animal-control center immediately.

If you are bitten by any animal, whether domestic or wild, wash the wound right away with soap and water and get to a healthcare provider. You’ll be treated via a series of shots called rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). You should also contact your local animal-control agency so they can capture the animal for observation and/or rabies testing.

The first symptoms of rabies in people, the CDC says, include fever, headache and weakness. Symptoms of a worsening case are difficulty sleeping, anxiety, confusion and a tingling sensation, usually at the site of the wound. Still other symptoms at this stage include excitation, hallucinations, agitation, salivating more than usual, difficulty swallowing, and fear of water. If a rabies victim isn’t treated, the infection is usually fatal within days of the symptoms appearing.

Humans aren’t the only possible rabies victims: family pets and domestic animals can also get it if they are bitten by rabid wild animals. This is dangerous not only to the domestic animal but also to its family, because of our close contact with pets, according to the CDC. The earliest symptoms appear only ten days after a bit, according to the ASPCA. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for rabies. An animal that has it will most likely be euthanized.

So it’s essential, the CDC says, to keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all cats, ferrets and dogs. Besides keeping pets vaccinated, the CDC recommends that you keep cats and ferrets indoors at all times and make sure that dogs are under direct supervision when they’re outdoors.

Teach children and others never to handle live or dead wild animals, as well as unfamiliar domestic animals, the CDC experts say. They should report any unusual animal behavior to an adult immediately.
Some vacationers may be concerned about the presence of bats in campgrounds. The CDC says that’s not always dangerous, although it can be. Bats have exposed people to rabies, but many bats that are outdoors aren’t rabid, and it’s normal to have a bat sighting at campgrounds. However, the CDC says, you can minimize the possibility of contact with bats by using a tent or mosquito netting.

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