Health Department Urges
Caution Around Wild Animals
| HANCOCK - June 16, 2009
As Western Upper Peninsula residents are enjoying outdoor summertime
activities, the Western UP District Health Department reminds people
to use caution around wild and unfamiliar domestic animals to
protect themselves against rabies.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous
system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite
of an animal with rabies. Wild mammals, such as bats, raccoons,
skunks, fox, or coyotes can have rabies and transmit it to people.
Rabies is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.
"The best method of prevention is to use caution around unfamiliar
animals," Dr. Terry Frankovich, WUPDHD Medical Director. "If you are
bitten by an animal, wash the wound immediately with plenty of soap
and water and contact your physician and local health department. If
you can do so safely, capture and confine the animal so it may be
tested for the virus."
Rabies exposure is nearly always through a bite, but rabies can also
be transmitted if a rabid animal scratches a person or if its saliva
comes into contact with broken skin. Because bites and scratches
from bats may go unnoticed if a person is sleeping, is very young,
or is mentally incapacitated, the health department should be
contacted if a bat is found in the same room with a young child, or
with a sleeping or mentally incapacitated adult.
Although rabies is rare, a few people die of rabies each year in the
United States, usually because they do not recognize the risk of
rabies from the bite of a wild animal and do not seek medical
advice. According to the CDC, most of the recent human rabies cases
in the United States have been caused by contact with infected bats.
Laboratory testing by both the State of Michigan and State of
Wisconsin has identified rabies positive bats in the northern lower
peninsula of Michigan and in northern Wisconsin.
Reported wild animal bites and stray domestic pet bites are taken
very seriously by the health department. If the animal or bat has
been captured, it can be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian and
tested for rabies by the Michigan Department of Community Health
Laboratory. The laboratory must use tissue from the animal's brain
to test for rabies so it is important that animals which will be
tested are euthanized in a manner that does not damage the animal's
head. Domestic pets such as dogs and cats that have bitten a person
can be quarantined and observed for rabies symptoms if the owner
wishes to keep the animal.
If the animal or bat can't be captured and tested, the person who
was bitten may need treatment for possible exposure to rabies.
According to Dr. Frankovich, "A physician may give the bite victim a
single injection of rabies immune globulin and then five injections
over one month of rabies vaccine administered in the arm as a
preventative measure". If treatment is obtained promptly following
rabies exposure, nearly all cases of rabies can be prevented. "All
animal bites, regardless of whether the animal is available for
rabies observation or testing, should be evaluated by a health
professional for wound management, to check on the need for tetanus
vaccination, and to make a decision regarding rabies preventive
Because the treatment is so rigorous and expensive, preventing
exposure in the first place is critical. To help avoid possible
exposure to rabies:
Avoid contact with wild animals and stray domestic pets,
especially if you observe them acting abnormally or sick.
Exclude bats from living quarters by keeping screens in good
repair and by closing up any small openings in windows, chimneys,
and loose fitting doors that could allow them to enter.
Be sure pet dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock are up to date on
their rabies vaccinations. Vaccinated pets prevent the spread of
disease between wildlife and people.
Never leave infants or young children alone with any animal, and
teach children to never approach an unfamiliar or wild animal.
For more information about rabies contact the Western U.P. District
Health Department, check the health department's website at
www.wupdhd.org, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
website at www.cdc.gov/rabies. Western U.P. District Health
Department provides public health services to residents in Houghton,
Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon, and Gogebic counties. In addition, its
Superior Home Health and Hospice Division provides skilled home
nursing and hospice services in the five counties. Western U.P
District Health Department has offices in Hancock, L’Anse, Ontonagon
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