Most people know what rabies is, however not everyone understands the potential risk or how it is spread. Because it is such a serious disease, it is important to know the facts.
- Between 2002–2018 there were 402 confirmed cases of rabies in Wisconsin. Most of these were bats, however there were also dogs, cats, a horse, calf, a fox and 14 skunks in the mix. In 2019 there were 30 cases in our state, all in bats. Two of those cases were in Waukesha county, four in Dane county, and two in Ozaukee county, so some were close to home.
- In the United states, there are an average of 400 – 500 cases of rabies each year with two of these being human cases. So, although the numbers are fairly low, rabies is not a disease to get complacent with. It is almost always fatal if not treated before symptoms begin.
- Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes are the animals most likely to have and carry rabies in the U.S. and Canada. Small mammals like mice and squirrels almost never have rabies.
- Rabies in the U.S and Canada is most often spread to people and other animals by bats. In other countries people are most likely to get rabies from dog bites. Bats can get into homes undetected and their bites or scratches can be very small and go unnoticed. If you ever find your pet or child playing with a live or dead bat, the bat should be tested for rabies. Also, if you find a live or dead bat in your home where people (especially children) or pets were sleeping, you should contact your physician immediately.
- The incubation period between a bite and the onset of clinical signs can vary greatly. The typical incubation period is 3-8 weeks, but can be as little as 9 days or as long as several years in rare cases. Generally, the farther the wound is from the brain, the longer the incubation period.
- Rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. This usually occurs through bites, but has been known to spread through a scratch or existing open wound.
The good news is – rabies is very easy to prevent by keeping pets up to date on the rabies vaccine. Most counties have laws requiring current rabies shots in dogs and cats. The biggest risk is for un-vaccinated animals. If you or your pet receive a bite from an unknown or wild animal, it is always recommended to contact your physician or veterinarian for guidance. If the bite occurs from a domestic animal like a dog or cat, make sure to insist on proof of a current rabies. Don’t just take someone’s word for it. Rabies is not something to take chances with.
A little knowledge can go a long way. If you know the facts, you can be better prepared and keep your family and your pets protected. If you ever have any questions about rabies or anything else, we are always here to help!