Rabies is a deadly disease that kills both humans and animals. Worldwide, rabies kills 55,000 people each year. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human deaths caused by rabies has declined significantly from 100 or more per year a century ago to about two each year in the United States. Two programs are responsible for this decline: Animal control and vaccination programs.
People usually get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. It is also possible, but quite rare, that people may get rabies if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound. Other contact, such as petting a rabid animal or contact with the blood, urine or feces of a rabid animal, does not constitute an exposure. However, handling a rabid bat can result in exposure to the virus through unnoticed bites or scratches.
Today, most human rabies infections in the United States are attributable to exposure to the saliva, of rabid bats. Bats, however, are not the only source of rabies, many mammals can be infected. Here on the West Coast bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes, as well as domesticated animals like cats and dogs, are potential sources of this deadly virus. Fortunately, rabies is preventable and there are steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Vaccinate your dogs and cats. Contra Costa Animal Services program offers low-cost rabies vaccination.
- Avoid stray animals and wildlife, do not handle bats, and teach your children to do the same.
- If you are bitten, wash the bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
- If your pet is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Although rabies in humans is rare in the United States, approximately 23,000 people receive post-exposure treatment every year. If you think you were exposed to rabies from contact with (e.g. handling a bat), or, a bite from a rabid or possibly rabid animal, take the following steps to minimize your risk for contracting this deadly disease:
- Wash the affected area/wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Contact your health care provider immediately.
- Bring your immunization record if available to the clinic or hospital; tetanus immunization is often required following a bite wound.
- In Contra Costa County, you, your health care provider or veterinarian will need to report the biting animal to Animal Services at 925-335-8300.
Additional Rabies Information
- CA Dept. of Public Health
- Contra Costa Animal Services program offers low-cost rabies vaccination