News Brief by Kip Hansen
The U.S. CDC has issued one of its Vital Signs press releases that readers in the United States should be aware of, especially those living in more rural areas.
In the classic of modern American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird, the father of Scout, the narrator, Atticus Finch, a gentle and mild southern attorney, shocks his children when, at the pleading of Heck Tate, the town’s sheriff, he takes up a rifle and from a great distance, shoots and kills a rabid dog. In the 1930s, “mad dogs”, crazed by rabies, were a serious threat.
“Rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain in humans and other mammals. Early symptoms can include fever and tingling at the site of exposure. These symptoms are followed by one or more of the following symptoms: violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, fear of water, an inability to move parts of the body, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Once symptoms appear, the result is nearly always death.” — Wiki
The vast majority of the worldwide cases of human rabies, almost always contracted from bites and scratches of infected animals, are the results of dog bites. This used to be the case in the United States, but here, through laws and regulations requiring the vaccination of pet dogs against rabies, dog-to-human rabies infection has been virtually eliminated.
Animal rabies is still fairly common in the United States, with different areas having more frequent animal vectors of the disease:
[ click here for full sized image ]
It is difficult to see in the image above, and in the full-sized image as well, but the entire country, including Alaska and Puerto Rico (but not Hawaii) is marked for the presence of rabies in bats. The Eastern Coast marked for bats and raccoons, the great Midwest for bats and skunks with the same for parts of California, with Arizona and New Mexico bats and fox or fox-and-skunks. Puerto Rico has bats and mongoose.
The CDC issues this specific warning and recommendation:
“Staying away from wildlife, especially bats, is key to preventing rabies in people. Bats carry rabies virus in every U.S. state except Hawaii, and can spread the virus year-round. However, anecdotal case reports suggest that people may not be fully aware that bats pose a rabies risk – and so they may not seek life-saving rabies PEP if they are bitten or scratched by a bat. If people wake up with a bat in the room, CDC recommends that they assume they may have been exposed to rabies and see a healthcare provider right away to determine if they need to receive PEP [Postexposure prophylaxis] for rabies.”
When I was young, rabies shots were anecdotally believed to involve a long series of [reportedly] extremely painful shots in the stomach. A historical recounting states: “The treatment consisted of 25 injections of rabies vaccine: three on the first day, two on the second, two on the third, and one each day after for 18 days. Each dose was slightly stronger, or more virulent, than the preceding, so that the body could build up immunity.”
Today the treatment is easier and can be administered by your family doctor:
Rabies shots include:
- A fast-acting shot (rabies immune globulin) to prevent the virus from infecting you. Part of this injection is given near the area where the animal bit you if possible, as soon as possible after the bite.
- A series of rabies vaccines to help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus. Rabies vaccines are given as injections in your arm. You receive four injections over 14 days.
I have had the experience of having a bat in the house, flying about in its rather spooky silent fashion. A workable method of getting a bat out of the house is to hold a towel like a matador’s cape, down low, and then toss it up, still spread out, into the flight path of the bat. The bat will hit the towel without hurting itself and fall to the floor. Bats cannot take flight from the ground. If the bat is still tangled in the towel, one can carefully pick up whole package (if not, capture the grounded bat with the towel, carefully), take it outside near a tree or other vertical structure, and shake out the bat gently onto the ground. It will find its way to the tree, climb up high enough to get air-borne, and fly away. Washing up carefully after any contact with wild animals is a must. The CDC says “If people wake up with a bat in the room, CDC recommends that they assume they may have been exposed to rabies and see a healthcare provider right away”.
- Bats are your greatest risk of contracting rabies in the United States. Be aware of this threat.
- All animals, domestic or wild, that are acting strangely or out of character, should be avoided and never approached — especially known carriers of rabies: bats, dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes and skunks. If in doubt, call your local animal control officer or animal rescue.
- Don’t Panic! “The U.S. averages [only] 1 to 3 human cases of rabies a year now”. Even so, if you think you may have been exposed, do see your doctor immediately.
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Author’s Comment Policy:
I love the outdoors, land or sea, and have spent a great deal of time just poking around in the wild — much to my gain. No animal deserves to be molested, harmed or killed solely because they might be inconvenient. Animals or insects that target humans and/or spread disease must be controlled, of course.
Bats are having a hard time in the United States. They have long been targeted and killed on sight by people with misconceptions and superstitions about them. In the present, many species are dying of white-nose syndrome. But while we love them, and put up bat houses for them, we must be aware of the threat of rabies that they represent.
I would love to hear your bat stories.
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