DPHHS Urges Caution Regarding Rabies Exposures

State and local public health officials remind Montanans to be aware of the risk for exposure to rabies this time of year when the likelihood of interactions with wild animals increases.

“Be smart this spring and summer and take time to learn a few basic tips that will protect you and your family,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Richard Opper.

To avoid possible exposures, keep the following rabies prevention tips in mind:

 Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Teach children never to touch wild animals or handle bats, even dead ones. Ask children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.

Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies.  All dogs and cats should have a current rabies certificate.

Bat-proof your house. Close all outside openings larger than 3/8” in the walls, roofs, and floors. Put screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering.

Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals are not seen during the daytime. If you see one and it is acting strangely, leave it alone and contact your local health department or animal control agency.  

If you or your child has any contact with a bat, or are bitten or scratched by any wild or stray animal, please do the following:

Wash any bite or wound with soap and water.

Contact a health care provider or public health department for appropriate follow-up.

In the summer of 2013, there were hundreds of reports of animal bites in Montana, including over 40 encounters between bats and people. During the same period, 20 of the 200 bats and 13 of 25 skunks submitted to the Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory tested positive for rabies.

Rabies is not limited to wild animals; in the same year two dogs and one cat also tested positive. People who may have been exposed generally receive a series of shots that can range in cost from $2,000 to $7,000 per person.

Rabies can be a fatal disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals.  The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals from the bite or saliva of a rabid animal. 

Although exposures can occur anytime, spring and summer are the seasons when most exposures occur as humans and animals emerge from the long Montana winter. Although skunks are the most common four legged animals infected with rabies in Montana, the majority of reported human exposures result from bats.

Because bat bites can be difficult to detect, it is important that any physical contact with a bat be brought to the attention of a health care provider or public health officials for a risk assessment. Bats found in homes, especially sleeping areas, are a concern because sleeping people, small children, or pets may not be aware or unable to report an exposure. “It is important to consult with health authorities if you find a bat in your home,” Opper said.

In addition to protecting yourself, it is important to protect pets. “We urge people not to approach or feed wild or and stray animals and never touch a bat,” said Elton Mosher of the DPHHS Communicable Disease and Epidemiology Bureau. “Protect yourself, your pets and the community by getting your animals vaccinated and don’t touch wild animals.”

Officials remind anyone who may have been exposed not to destroy the animal that may be responsible. It may be possible to observe or test the animal to rule out rabies and eliminate the need for treatment. Contact your local health department or animal control for instructions on what to do. 


Reader Comments(0)

Rendered 04/23/2024 13:03