Precautions to prevent rabies
After the diagnosis of rabies in two bats recently in Vilas County, the Vilas County Public Health Department would like to remind people that rabies poses an ongoing threat to humans and domestic animals. During the warm summer months, Northwoods residents are urged to take extra precautions against rabies exposure from wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes. Wild animals are more likely than domestic animals to be infected with rabies due to widespread vaccination of domestic animals.
“As wild animals become more active in warmer weather, the possibility of human contact increases,” said Gina Egan, Director of the Vilas County Public Health Department. “Although our natural instinct is to befriend a baby animal, to pet one that seems friendly, or to help an injured animal, strays and wild animals should be avoided.”
Pets, livestock and people can become infected through an encounter with rabid wildlife. For this reason, it is extremely important to vaccinate domestic animals against rabies.
“Rabies vaccination not only protects pets, but creates a protective buffer for animal owners as well,” Egan said.
Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People and unvaccinated animals can get rabies from the bite of an infected animal or from saliva of an infected animal if it gets directly into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or any break in the skin. If bitten by any animal, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Persons who may have been exposed to rabies can receive a series of injections to prevent the development of the disease. Rabies is virtually always fatal once symptoms develop.
Follow these tips to prevent rabies:
• Never handle wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, or foxes.
• If you wake up in a room with a bat present, regardless if there is evidence of a bite or scratch, seek medical advice. If at all possible, trap the bat for testing. Do not release the bat.
• Wash animal bites thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
• If bitten by a wild/stray animal, capture or confine the animal if it is possible to do so without incurring further injury. Call the local sheriff’s department to assist with trapping, testing and/or observing the animal. The sheriff’s department may also assist with removing stray or wild animals from your yard, home or neighborhood regardless of whether a bite has occurred.
• Teach children never to approach unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
• Prevent bats from entering homes or spaces where people and pets may be present. Keep screens in good repair and seal small openings around your home to exclude bats.
• Avoid leaving pet food or food scraps outside or on your porch. Doing so will attract potential rabies carriers like skunks and raccoons.
• Keep vaccinations current for dogs, cats and ferrets. Keep cats and ferrets inside and keep dogs under direct supervision.
The goal for the Vilas County Public Health Department is for residents and visitors to have a safe and healthy summer. Please keep these tips in mind when you encounter wildlife in the Northwoods.
For more information, call the Vilas County Public Health Department at 715-479-3656 or contact a local veterinarian.