Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite of an animal with rabies (a rabid animal). Any wild mammal, like a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to people. Although rare, it is also possible for people to get rabies when infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth or a wound of an individual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the recent rabies cases in the U.S. have been caused by rabies virus from bats.
Rabies is a fatal disease if left untreated. However, thousands of people are successfully treated each year after being bitten by an animal that may have rabies. A few people die of rabies each year in the U.S., usually because they do not recognize the risk of rabies from the bite of a wild animal and do not seek medical advice immediately.
How to Prevent Rabies
- Pet owners should be sure their pets have current immunizations for rabies and keep their pets from roaming free. Vaccination is essential to protecting pets and preventing the further spread of the disease.
- Vaccination is important for indoor pets as well because rabid bats can get inside homes.
- Residents are urged not to handle wild animals and to beware of any bats or skunks seen during daylight hours. Bats that are active during the day (i.e., those seen in places where bats are not usually seen, such as indoors or on the lawn), or any bat that is unable to fly should be considered possibly rabid and reported to the appropriate animal control agency.
- Wash any wound from an animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
- Have all dead, sick or captured bats/skunks tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets is suspected.
- Keep wild animals from entering homes, churches, schools and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets. Seal up holes that might allow bats into your living quarters. Any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch should be caulked. Use window screens, chimney caps and draft-guards beneath doors to attics; fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking; and ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
If You Have Been Bitten
If bitten by a bat, dog, cat, raccoon or other mammal, wash the affected area thoroughly and seek medical advice immediately. Contact local animal control agency and notify them of location of animal so that, if indicated, the animal can undergo appropriate testing or quarantine. See our Preventing Animal-Borne Disease brochure (PDF) for more information.
Benefits of Bats
Bats play an important role in our ecosystem. Worldwide, they are primary predators of enormous numbers of insects and pests that can cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually. According to Bat Conservation International, bats can eat as many as 1,200 insects in an hour. Bats often eat mosquitoes which can carry life-threatening diseases such as West Nile Virus. Bats play key roles in keeping a wide variety of insect populations in balance.
For more information on animal borne disease and prevention, please call Jefferson County Public Health's Zoonosis Program at 303-271-5745 or 303-271-5700.