Rabies Virus Information
Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, particularly mammals. It is found most commonly in raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes. Any mammal can become infected with the rabies virus.
The virus is transmitted via saliva contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. This normally occurs via a bite from an infected animal. The virus lies dormant in the nerves for a period of time that varies from a few days to months. This is called the incubation period. In a human that has been exposed, recovery is likely if treatment is sought immediately and received during the incubation period. After the incubation period, the virus travels through the nerves to the brain. This is when symptoms first appear. Death occurs within a few days of the onset of symptoms. One should seek immediate medical attention in the event of an animal bite or an exposure to wildlife.
Rabies affects the nervous system. Easily identifiable symptoms in animals include unusual behavior. Wild animals may act aggressively towards inanimate objects or lose their fear of humans and act friendly. “Foaming at the mouth” may be present during the later stages of the disease, or not at all. Other symptoms may include staggering, difficulty breathing, weakness, or seizures.
If you are bitten by any animal, clean the wound out well with soap and running water for 15 minutes and contact your doctor. Report the bite to Alexander County Animal Services. Be certain to write down the location of the animal and a description of the animal to provide to the animal control officer. Do not try to catch any wild animal that bites you. Call animal services immediately to capture the animal for rabies testing. If the animal is someone’s pet, also get the owner’s name and address and give them to the animal control officer. Any mammal can transmit rabies. The animal that bit you, depending on the species and circumstances, will have to be evaluated or tested for rabies.
If you find a bat in your home, isolate it to one room, leave the room and close the doors. Call animal services to capture the bat for testing. Most human rabies cases in the United States are due to unrecognized exposures to rabies through bats. You may not recognize a bat bite because the wounds they cause are so small. Most bats do not carry rabies in North Carolina; only about 3 percent of bats are infected. But because a diagnosis can’t be made by looking at an animal, bats must be assumed to be infected with rabies until a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis is made.
The spread of rabies is most effectively controlled by vaccinating domestic animals against the disease. All dogs, cats, and ferrets in North Carolina are required by law to be currently vaccinated against rabies.
- Cats, ferrets, and dogs over 4 months of age must be vaccinated against rabies once a year. Three-year vaccinations are also available as a booster to the one-year vaccination. The three-year vaccination is only available through a licensed veterinarian. One shot is not enough; rabies vaccinations must be kept current.
- You will receive a rabies vaccination certificate and a rabies tag from your veterinarian. This is your rabies registration. Keep your certificate in a safe place. It is your proof of rabies vaccination status.
- Attach the tag to your pet’s collar for identification and proof of vaccination. Your pet must wear the tag anytime it is off your property.
Alexander County Animal Services provides low-cost rabies vaccinations at the shelter. Several times through the year, Rabies Vaccination Clinics are held at various locations through-out the county.
Along with making sure your pets are vaccinated there are other things that you can do to help reduce the spread of rabies by minimizing interaction with wildlife.
- Do not feed pets outside unattended. Pet food will attract wild animals.
- Do not feed wildlife, feral cats, or feral dogs.
- Secure garbage cans with wildlife-proof lids.
- Do not discard food scraps out into the yard. Dispose of any food scraps in garbage cans.