By Stephanie Thiede, Public Health Nurse
Langlade County Health Department
The arrival of spring gives the Health Department the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of the dangers of rabies. Fortunately, for Wisconsinites, there have not been any active human cases of rabies since 2010, but the rabies virus remains somewhat common in wild animals. The skunk, bat, fox and raccoon are all known to transmit rabies, and in our region of the state, the bat poses the most significant exposure risk. In 2014, there were 26 bat specimens and one fox specimen that tested positive in Wisconsin.
Rabies can be transmitted from a rabid animal to another animal or human by a bite or lick over a break in the skin. The virus is present in the animal’s saliva and travels along the nerve’s pathways to the brain, where it causes inflammation that results in delirium, painful muscle spasms in the throat, and other severe symptoms. Once symptoms develop, human rabies is almost always fatal. The single most important and successful action is the vaccination of domestic dogs and other pets.
The most common sign to watch for is unusual behavior for that particular animal, such as unprovoked aggression. When a person is exposed through a bite or scratch where saliva could enter the body, he/she should immediately wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical care. Every attempt should be made to capture and confine the animal, if it is possible to do so in a safe manner. If the animal appears rabid, it is euthanized, and its brain is examined for the presence of rabies.
In the attempt to keep the members of our community safe from this disease, the Langlade County Board of Health approved an Animal Bite Surveillance System and Rabies Control Plan in August, 1999. The responsibilities and consequences of animal ownership are clearly detailed in the plan. Animal owners are reminded that they carry a responsibility to care for their pet by keeping them up to date on the rabies vaccine and other immunizations.
Any and every animal should be respected at all times. The physical, emotional, and financial pain of an animal bite/exposure from an unvaccinated animal should not be something that any of us has to experience. If you have any questions, call your veterinary clinic or the Langlade County Health Department at 715-627-6250.