There have been some reports of rabid raccoons in the area where we live. I’m thinking about getting my children immunized against rabies. What do you recommend?
Rabies is caused by a virus that invades nervous tissues, and in the absence of treatment is invariably fatal—with only a single exception known in the medical literature, at least to us.
Rabies is totally preventable when the correct steps are taken. It can affect almost any wild or domestic mammal. Domestic mammals include dogs and cats. In the wild, rabies can affect foxes, raccoons, and—in places such as Africa—jackals, hyenas, and even the large cats. One of the animals most likely to transmit rabies is the bat.
Prevention begins with the vaccination of one’s susceptible pets. Many jurisdictions subsidize the cost of immunizing pets as a public health measure. Any family pets such as dogs, cats, or other mammals should be immunized. Fish, birds, and reptiles do not get rabies.
Children should be taught to be careful of animals they do not know, particularly wild animals. The image of a rabid “crazy” animal generated the name “mad dog”—typifying one that runs amok biting people. Sometimes this type of behavior is seen; but more often, the behavior of an animal with rabies is merely atypical and, at times, even friendly. A wild animal that does not run away or appears friendly is very suspicious, and children must be taught to avoid animals exhibiting this behavior. A nocturnal animal, such as a fox, that walks around in broad daylight without any apparent fear should alert one to the possible danger of rabies. Farmers with dairy cows should be aware that cows can be bitten on their heels by rabid animals and come down with the disease; their saliva then poses a danger to the farmers.
The average incubation time from a bite to onset of symptoms is between 30 and 60 days, but it can occur in as short a period as 10 days or be as long as a year or more. Bites on the face and neck seem to progress to symptomatic rabies more rapidly than bites on other areas of the body.
People who sustain an animal bite should receive medical attention immediately. The bite should be thoroughly cleansed with soap and water for several minutes to wash out as much contamin-ating material as possible. It’s not advisable to use antiseptics, which may cause more tissue damage. Bites can become infected or transmit tetanus as well as rabies.
Fever, swelling, redness, and discharge of pus are all indications for repeat medical assessment and treatment.
People who are bitten by an animal that is not their own need to have the animal located and placed in quarantine. Wild animals should be hunted down by experienced hunters—not family members—and evaluated for rabies. Immunization for rabies should be commenced unless one can be certain that the animal was not rabid (i.e., an immunized family pet). All animal bites require a tetanus injection if the victim has not been immunized against tetanus within the previous five years.
Parents should teach their children not to tease or surprise a resting or eating animal. Wild animals do not make good pets. People should not make strange gestures or threaten animals, and if confronted, back up slowly and calmly.
Do not touch sick animals, and always wash hands before eating, even after touching the family pet.