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Seasonal Reports of Rabies Exposures on the Rise

The Department of Health (HEALTH) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) advise Rhode Islanders that the seasonal increase in reports of potential rabies exposures has started. Most recently, there were several people in Hopkinton who were evaluated for exposure to a fox, and six people were treated.

“Every spring and summer there is an increase in calls from the public about potential exposure to rabid animals,” said Interim Director of Health Michael Fine, MD. “Although there have been no cases of human rabies in Rhode Island, it is common in many wild animals (such as bats, raccoons, foxes and strays) so people are at risk. It is important to use common sense when dealing with domestic, stray or wild animals. The fact that we have had no human cases reflects our State’s aggressive approach to evaluating each potentially risky exposure and for timely vaccination to prevent rabies.”

Avoid getting rabies or having to get the multi-injection treatment series. Protect yourself and your family. 1. If you have been scratched or bitten by any animal (even your own pet), have touched an animal you do not know, or see a bat in your home, contact HEALTH at 222-2577 (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) or 272-5952 after hours. HEALTH is the only agency that can authorize the use of rabies vaccine. 2. Do not touch or pet stray animals, wild animals, or animals that you do not know. If you see a domestic animal (cat or dog) that is acting strangely or you think is a stray, call your local police department. 3. If your pet has been in a fight with another animal or pet or has open wounds after being outside, try to avoid touching them and keep them isolated as much as possible. If you must touch them, wear gloves. Call your vet to see if your pet needs a booster dose of rabies vaccine and report the incident to your local police department. -more-

4. Do not feed any stray domestic or wild animals. Feeding stations tend to attract all types of animals and can present an opportunity for transmission of rabies to people or other animals when an animal with rabies is attracted to a feeding station. 5. Report wild animals that are displaying unusual behavior to DEM at 222-3070. Unusual behavior can include aggression, loss of fear, loss of coordination, apparent blindness, seizures, extreme depression, or coma. 6. Cover and secure any trash that is outside. Trash can be a food source for stray or wild animals. 7. Make sure your pet(s) are up to date on their rabies vaccination. If you are not sure about your pet’s vaccination status, call your vet and check. 8. Bat proof your home. Bats are most active during the summer. If there is a bat in your house, try to confine the bat to one room. (Close all doors and windows.) Do not go back into the room until the bat is caught. For information on how to bat proof your home, call a licensed professional. For a list of licensed professionals, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/relok8rs.pdf. 9. If you cannot reach a licensed professional to catch a bat, HEALTH and DEM recommend that to safely catch a bat so that it can be tested for rabies, put on leather gloves and slowly approach the bat when it lands. Place a clear, see-through container over the bat. Slide a lid under the container to trap the bat inside. Securely tape the lid to the container, and punch small holes in the lid so the bat can breathe. Contact HEALTH at 222-2577 (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) or 272-5952 after hours to make arrangements for rabies testing.

Rabies is a virus that is transmitted to humans or other mammals through the saliva of an infected animal. The virus usually enters the human body through a break in the skin (bite, scratch) or by coming in contact with an infected animal’s saliva and then unknowingly touching your eyes, nose, or open wound.

Bat rabies is highly transmissible to humans, and can be transmitted without being bitten or scratched by the bat. As a result, many times the rabies vaccinations are recommended if there is no visible bite mark and the bat is not available for testing. Timely vaccination after rabies exposure is 100% effective in preventing human rabies. Once there is disease onset, the illness is almost always fatal.

Related links

Department or agency: Department of Health

Online: http://www.health.ri.gov

Release date: 05-12-2011

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