August 25, 2008
Many Texans continue to enjoy outdoor activities into the late summer and early fall days. But Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) health officials warn that September and October often have the highest number of laboratory-confirmed rabies cases.
Last year, 114 rabies cases were reported in September, 93 of those in bats. The only month with a higher total was March with 116 cases out of 969 cases for the year. In 2006, 120 rabies cases were reported in September and another 109 cases in October, most in bats.
While these numbers can be eye-opening, DSHS health officials say there are things that you can do to keep from being exposed to the rabies virus.
“The most important thing that people can do is to have their animals vaccinated against rabies and keep those vaccinations up to date,” said Dr. Tom Sidwa, DSHS veterinarian who heads the department's Zoonosis Control Branch. “State law requires that you have your dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian.”
DSHS also offers this advice:
- Keep cats and ferrets indoors and keep dogs indoors or in a fenced yard.
- Spay or neuter pets to prevent unwanted animals that may not receive proper care.
- Teach children not to play with any animal that they do not know, even if the animal seems friendly.
- Avoid animals, both domestic and wild, that appear disoriented, fearless or aggressive. Nighttime animals such as bats, raccoons and skunks that are active in the daytime may be sick.
- Do not touch any wild animal that appears ill or dead. Call your local animal control or local health department for help.
- Don't attract wild animals to your yard. Avoid leaving pet food outdoors, and keep garbage in closed containers.
- Stay away from wild animals, and never keep a wild animal as a pet.
- Prevent bats from entering the home where they might come in contact with people or pets. You cannot, however, get rabies just from seeing a bat from a distance.
- If you find a bat in a room with an unattended child, a sleeping person or anyone who cannot reliably say what happened, leave the room, close the door and call your local rabies control or local health department to capture the bat and have it tested for rabies. Do not touch the bat yourself.
- Have domestic ferrets, wolf-dog hybrids and livestock, especially those that are in frequent contact with humans, vaccinated against rabies.
Rabies is a viral illness that affects the central nervous system. Once symptoms of rabies occur, it is almost always fatal. However, a series of post-exposure shots, if given in time, can prevent rabies from developing.
Humans and all warm-blooded animals can get rabies. You can be infected with the rabies virus through the bite of an infected animal. Though rare, you also can get rabies if the saliva from an infected animal gets directly into your nose, eyes, mouth or a fresh wound.
Rabies is a medical urgency not an emergency, but decisions must not be delayed. If you or someone in your family is bitten, DSHS recommends that you:
- Wash the wound immediately and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Apply an antiseptic if available.
- Seek prompt medical care if an animal bites you or you believe that you may have been exposed to rabies.
Your health care provider will determine if a series of rabies shots is needed. Report all animal bites to your local rabies control authority as soon as possible so the animal can be quarantined or tested if needed. Be able to describe the kind of animal, its size and color as completely as possible if it has not already been captured.
High-risk animals for rabies in Texas are skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes.
Rabbits, hares and small rodents such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and chipmunks are rarely found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies in humans in the United States. Dogs, cats, horses and cattle are the most frequently reported rabid domestic animals in Texas.
(News Media: For more information, contact Emily Palmer, DSHS Assistant Press Officer, 512-458-7400.)