Rabies Recap

Submitted by Dr Rebecca Wise:

As we move into warmer weather, we’ll be taking our kids and pets outside more, so the risk increases for wild animal scratches and bites. If they break the skin, they can easily become infected because we are often too far from clean sinks to wash out the wounds right away. Wounds on the face, scalp, hand, or foot are more likely to become infected so particular care must be given to protecting ourselves, our kids, and our pets.

raccoonThe first protection is always prevention. Teach your kids to not approach wild animals or unfamiliar pets, no matter how “cute” they are, and keep your own pets on leashes or in fenced yards. Keep your kids and pets up to date on their vaccinations, and always supervise children in the presence of unfamiliar animals. Injured animals (wild or otherwise) should never be approached, no matter how much you want to help. Call a game warden or police officer to assess and handle the situation for you. Injured animals are scared and can be even more ready to bite or scratch, so keep your pets at a distance too.

However, there are times when something happens, so you have to be ready to clean any wound out. When you are planning on being outside, grab a few essentials for a quick first-aid kit: Antibacterial liquid soap and a bottle of water, a package of gauze or gauze squares, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and a roll of medical tape. This can all fit in a gallon size plastic bag that you can keep handy. Wash the area as thoroughly as possible and apply the ointment and cover it. But, when you get back to a sink, wash the area with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, but be gentle because scrubbing can increase bruising and slow the healing process. Pat the area dry and apply ointment and cover it again.

If the wound won’t stop bleeding after a few minutes or seems very deep, apply pressure and go to the emergency room or veterinary hospital. For a several days you should assess the wound for signs of infection such as swelling, redness, oozing fluid, pain, and fever. If any of these appear, call the doctor or vet right away. Also, if flu-like symptoms develop (fatigue, swollen glands, decreased appetite, headache) you should immediately call the doctor or vet.

In addition, any scratch or bite from a wild animal should always be reported to animal control. If possible, someone should keep the creature in sight until help arrives – but never try to capture the animal on your own. At minimum, write down the exact location and time of the incident, a description of the animal (try to be specific), and draw a sketch or take a picture of the wound (number of punctures, part of the body, etc.) to provide as much information to authorities as possible.

The most worrisome disease that can be contracted is, of course, rabies. It is a virus that attacks the nervous system and is usually spread by skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats. In some areas of the country it also affects livestock, dogs, and more commonly, cats. The rabies virus is spread by blood or secretions like saliva, and travels to the brain and other organs where it incubates for 5 days to 1 year. On average, symptoms appear in about two months: fever, headache, decreased appetite, vomiting, itching, pain, numbness, tingling, difficulty swallowing, agitation, disorientation, paralysis or even death.

If the animal is captured by animal control, it can be immediately tested for rabies to determine if a person or pet must undergo treatment. However, if the animal is not captured, and a bite or scratch has broken the skin, treatment is recommended and should be given as soon as possible. The treatment includes a vaccine and can be given before or immediately after injury to be effective. In humans, the vaccine is given in four shots on days 1, 3, 7, and 14.
Some myths you may have heard include:

o The shots are terribly painful and are given in the abdomen. This is false information. The shots are given in the arm and are no more painful than a flu shot.

o People die from rabies every year. Again, false. There have been a few human deaths since the 1990’s but in every case it was because the patient did not seek medical attention.

o Bats are the biggest carriers of rabies and will attack humans without warning. Again, this is untrue. The most common carrier of rabies worldwide is actually stray dogs, and bats never seek to attack humans. They will only bite or scratch to defend themselves. If you simply ignore them, they will ignore you. If one gets into your house, there are several safe ways to get it out: http://www.wildlife-removal.com/batinhouse.html

o You can get rabies from animal feces or urine. This is simply false.

o Squirrels, mice, wild rabbits, and chipmunks carry rabies too. This is possible, but very rare. Unless the animal is behaving in any unusual manner or appears sick, the risk is negligible.

So, enjoy the beautiful Spring and Summer weather, but be protective of yourself, your kids, and your pets. The best way to stay healthy is to play and relax with your family! Go have fun!

For more information, check out this website: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/

Be Well, Be Wise,
Dr.Becky

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Dr. Rebecca Wise

Wise Words…. is a general medical information column from Dr Rebecca Wise. Dr. Wise has a master’s degree in education as well as her doctorate in pharmacy. She is an Ambulatory Care Clinical Pharmacist and Educator in Erie, PA.

Soon to be released is Dr Becky’s new website which will address women’s issues, watch for it: www.WiseWordsforWomen.com
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