You have probably heard of rabies before; your parents likely warned you when you were younger of the dangers of interacting with stray animals and wildlife. That’s because these creatures are the primary carriers of rabies and can spread the disease to people and pets through bites and scratches. In fact, every 10 minutes, someone in the US is treated for possible exposure to rabies. But don’t worry – rabies can be prevented.
How do you get rabies?
Rabies spreads through animal bites and scratches, and in cases where the animal’s saliva or infected tissue comes in contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, or open wound. While raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies, bats are more likely to infect people. Skunks and foxes can also be carriers, and a few cases have been reported in wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and ferrets. Smaller rodents like hamsters, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and rabbits are rarely infected. Rabies cannot spread from person to person.
The best ways to reduce your chance of rabies exposure include:
- Vaccinating your pets.
- Reporting stray animals to your local health authorities or animal-control officer.
- If you have children, reminding them not to touch or feed stray animals and to stay away from wildlife.
- Washing animal bites or scratches immediately with soap and water.
Signs and symptoms of rabies
After a person has been exposed to rabies, the virus has to travel through their body to the brain before it can cause any symptoms. That’s why it can take weeks to months to realize you have been infected. Once the symptoms do appear, they are similar to experiencing the flu – fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and tiredness. You may also feel a tingling, pricking, or itching sensation around the infected area.
After this stage, neurological symptoms will develop that can cause abnormal behavior such as hallucinations, irritability or aggressiveness, and muscle spasms.
When to call your doctor
If you’ve been in contact with wildlife or unfamiliar animals, especially if you’ve been bitten or scratched, wash your wound(s) immediately with soap and water and call your doctor. They will help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) based on multiple factors, including your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to.
If you have questions about rabies, we encourage you to have a conversation with your doctor. We take pride in providing support to our patients, and are always here for you!