Animals are a critical part of our lives. As pets, animals such as dogs and cats provide companionship, comfort, and can help us lead healthier lives. They are cherished members of the family and are often part of a loving household. Even those we don’t keep as pets can greatly impact our lives. Wild animals help maintain a balanced ecosystem by enacting roles that impact our lives in ways we don’t often recognize, including the control of rodent and insect populations.
One aspect of our relationship with animals that too often goes unrecognized is the deadly virus that both pets and wild animals can transmit to humans: rabies. Rabies poses a very serious threat to human and animal health. If untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. In fact, every year in the U.S., measures are taken to prevent approximately 40,000 potential exposures to rabies.
While humans generally do not get rabies from another human, animals can transmit the virus to people. Wild animals that typically carry the virus, such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats, can spread rabies to humans through a bite or scratch. In the U.S., more than 90% of all rabies cases occur in wild animals.
However, wild animals can also transmit rabies to pets. Due to their closeness to humans, pets with rabies can then bite or scratch a person and cause them to get rabies. Despite the fact that rabies is most commonly found in wild animals, most human cases of rabies are caused by exposure to domestic animals, such as dogs and cats.
In addition, the threat from rabies is not confined to any one location. Animals that transmit the rabies virus can be found in our places where people commonly gather, such as backyards and recreational areas. Even if an animal spotted in such an area is dead, exposure to rabies may still occur. The rabies virus can live in the saliva of a dead animal for a period of time after it has died and the virus can be transmitted to people who come in contact with the dead animal.
While many animals can pose a threat from rabies, bats are of particular concern. Bats can be found in many places where people live and gather for outdoor activities, including campgrounds. Unlike other wild animals, the bite of a bat might not always be apparent and due to their small teeth a bat might not always leave a mark when it bites someone. Bats can also enter homes in ways that other animals are unable, such as flying in through a window or attic vent.
Rabies has an undeniable presence in every community. No matter where we live, work, or play, this deadly virus can threaten the lives of those we hold dearest to our hearts. Parents, pet owners, and all members of the community must take action to help prevent rabies from burdening our families.
It is up to you to help control the spread of rabies. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe:
- Get your dog, cat, or ferret immunized against rabies. Call your veterinarian and make sure your pet’s shots are up to date.
- Spay or neuter your pet. This can help control the number of stray animals that come in contact with wildlife.
- Avoid contact with wildlife. Do not go near wild animals or unfamiliar animals and teach children to avoid them too. If you see an animal acting strangely, call animal control.
- Do not touch or pickup dead animals. Teach children to tell an adult if they see a dead animal. Call animal control if you come across a dead animal.
- “Bat-proof” your home to help keep bats out of your house or dwelling. For instructions on bat-proofing, visit http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats.html.
- If you are bitten by a wild or strange animal, wash the wound with soap and water. Seek medical care immediately. Then, call your local health department to see if further treatment might be necessary.
To learn more, call 800-CDC-INFO or visit www.cdc.gov/rabies. You can also get more information from your state or local health department and veterinarian’s office.