Rabies is a viral infection in the saliva of infected mammals. The virus enters the central nervous system of the host. It is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Other mammals including dogs, cats, ferrets, and farm animals can get rabies. Rabbits and small rodents, including squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats and mice are rarely infected with rabies. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, account for most cases of rabies in rodents.
Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into bite wounds or open cuts in skin OR onto mucous membranes. BITE exposure is defined as any penetration of the skin by teeth. Bites of some animals, such as bats, can inflict a minute injury that can go undetected. NON-BITE exposure is defined as contamination of open wounds, abrasions, mucous membranes, or scratches with infectious materials from a rabid animal. The highest risk is from large amounts of aerosolized rabies virus, as might be found in caves where there is a colony of bats.
If there is any type of exposure to a bat, wild or stray animal, it is important to try to trap or kill it without damaging its head without risking further exposure. Contact your local health department immediately to report the exposure and obtain advice about what steps are necessary. In Wicomico County, the number to call is 410-546-4446.
EXPOSURE TO RABIES CAN BE PREVENTED:
- Do not approach or handle any wild or stray animals. Do not keep wild animals as pets. Maryland law prohibits the keeping of wild animals as pets.
- Never try to coax a wild animal to eat from your hand.
- Vaccinate your dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies and keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
- Do not leave pets outside unattended or allow them to roam free. Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies. In Wicomico County, the law requires that a dog be on a leash or under direct control of a responsible person whenever off the owner’s property.
- Feed pets indoors and tightly cover garbage cans. Seal off any openings under porches and outbuildings.
- Teach children never to approach wild animals or animals they do not know. Instruct them to report immediately any bite, scratch, or contact with a strange or wild animal.
- Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens, and chimney caps; close any openings in your attic, basement, porch, or garage.
- Wear gloves when handling your pet if it has been in a fight with another animal; isolate it from people and other animals and call your veterinarian or local health department. And remember….