Monday, April 23, 2012

Rabies and the Great Outdoors

     I don’t know about you guys, but I have been loving the unseasonably warm weather we have been having this year. (Although I am worried about what temperatures will be like in August. Yikes!) There are any number of fun activities that open up to us when the weather is nice. From a simple walk or run, to a picnic with friends or family, to going for a hike, there is no end to the fun that awaits us outdoors.

     However, there are also certain dangers that we may face when we head outdoors. One such danger is running across wild or stray animals with rabies.

     Rabies is a preventable virus that is passed through the bite of an infected animal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most rabies cases reported each year occur in raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.

     In general, you should avoid contact with any wildlife, whether it looks friendly or not. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that can be used to identify an animal with rabies. These signs include foaming at the mouth, hiding in dark places, appearing excitable or restless, and biting at the air.

     If you are bitten by an animal of any type it is extremely important that you try your best to make note of where you were and any distinguishing marks that can be used to identify the animal.

     Next you want to wash the wound with soap and water as soon as possible. Washing a bite wound drastically decreases the chance that you will be infected by the rabies virus. After you finish thoroughly cleaning the wound you should contact animal control authorities. If they are successful in catching the animal it will make it much easier to determine if you are infected.

     Once you have called animal control, you should visit a health professional. A healthcare professional will be able to treat the wound and will determine, along with animal control, if you should be treated for rabies.

     Early symptoms of rabies are similar to the flu: fever, headache, weakness, and discomfort. If you do not seek treatment immediately, symptoms such as agitation, confusion, partial paralysis, hallucinations, and insomnia can occur. Once this second group of symptoms has set in, the disease is almost always fatal–which is why it is so important to seek medical help ASAP.

     If it is determined that you are at risk for contracting rabies, your doctor will give you a shot with the rabies vaccine. This is the first of a four-dose series of shots that would be given over a 14-day period. Modern rabies vaccine shots are given in the arm just like a flu shot.

     If you would like more information about rabies signs, symptoms, treatment, or prevention you can visit the CDC’s website which has a ton of great information.

By Shawn McNally

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