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Quick response is key to warding off rabies

It’s rare for a rabid animal to bite a human, but when it happens, health officials recommend that you immediately wash the wound with soap and water, then call a doctor. It’s best to get an injection of the human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) on the day you are bitten; this shot will offer rapid, short-term protection against rabies, which is fatal.  

It’s best to call a doctor and take precautions even if an animal showing signs of infection comes near you. One telltale sign is foaming at the mouth.  Rabies is transmitted through saliva and any contact with the saliva can lead to infection if you have any open wound or if the saliva gets into your eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  

If there is any risk of rabies, you will be given a series of a preventive vaccine, usually five doses over 28 days.

Wild animals such as bats, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and skunks are known to spread rabies. It’s very rare for beavers to spread the infection (see story, Page A1).

In the past, dog bites were a common cause of rabies, but now most domestic animals in the United States get rabies shots. If, however, a dog bites you, talk to the owner and find out as much information as possible — and then call your doctor. If a wild animal bites you, call your town’s animal control officer so the can be captured and observed for signs of infection.

The rabies virus spreads from the wound to the brain, and causes inflammation. If prompt and appropriate treatment is not received, the result can be fatal. Most rabies deaths occur in children. Deaths caused by rabies are very rare in the United States because of the wide availability of vaccines and HRIG. However, each year rabies kills more than 55,000 people around the world, according to www.vaccineinformation.org.

The incubation period for rabies can range from 10 days to seven years, although the average incubation period extends from three to seven weeks. Symptoms may include general discomfort and weakness, fever or headache for a few days in the early stages. As the virus progresses, symptoms include cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation, delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and insomnia.

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