Rabies is caused by a Lyssavirus of the Rhabdoviridae family.
Commonly Affected Species:
Signs Of Disease
Rabid animals typically behave abnormally and may show daytime activity in a nocturnal species such as a bat, loss of fear of humans, or unprovoked aggression. They may have a dropped jaw and appear to be foaming at the mouth. Rabid animals may also appear weak or paralyzed (dumb rabies) or may appear agitated and excited or paralyzed and frightened (furious rabies). Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies.
Most bats affected by rabies are found on the ground, unable to fly, during daylight. But rabies should be considered if bats are encountered in newly opened cabins, or in rooms where people that are sleeping may not have been aware of the bat.
Where is Disease Found?
Rabies is found in all parts of North America and the rest of the world in many species of carnivores including domestic dogs, domestic cats, red foxes, arctic foxes, skunks, and raccoons. In Idaho, the only rabies virus strain present is the bat-associated strain. Because these bat strains can be transferred from bats to other mammals, all mammals with signs of neurological disease should be considered a potential source of rabies. Rabid animals, primarily bats, have been detected in almost every county in Idaho with between 10-20 cases per year.
How Can I Protect Myself?
Rabies is transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal. Humans can be exposed to rabies through bites, scratches or saliva contamination of wounds or eyes from an animal with rabies. If open cuts or scratches or mucus membranes are exposed to saliva, brain or spinal cord tissue from a rabid animal, this is considered an exposure. Do not approach an animal that you think has rabies; and do not touch a dying or dead animal without gloves.
The best way for the public to protect themselves is to avoid touching, handling or adopting wild or stray animals. All cats and dogs that venture outside and may have contact with wild animals should be vaccinated for rabies. Vaccination schedules and advice can be obtained from local veterinarians.
Any wild animal, especially carnivores or bats, which has bitten or contacted a person or domestic animal and which is showing aggressiveness without being provoked, or that is showing neurologic signs like seizures, staggering or circling should be considered a rabies suspect.
If a rabid animal is contacted, the exposed person should apply or receive first aid treatment. The immediate, thorough scrubbing of the exposed skin or body surface, including a bite wound, with soap or detergent and water, or water alone, is the most effective means of preventing infection with rabies virus. The patient should be seen by their physician as soon as possible to determine if rabies vaccine and antiserum are required. Treatment options are at the discretion of the physician. Because rabies is virtually 100% fatal, do not delay seeking medical attention as there is no reliable treatment option once signs and symptoms occur.
The vaccination of pets is important in reducing potential human exposure to rabies since pets are more likely than people to come in contact with rabid wild animals and can subsequently expose people. Appropriate vaccines should be administered to pets by a veterinarian. None of the animal vaccines have been approved for use in wild animals. In Idaho it is illegal to possess striped skunks, foxes or raccoons without proper permits, primarily due to concerns about rabies.
The best protection against rabies is pre-exposure vaccination of persons at high risk of exposure to rabid animals, such as veterinarians, wildlife biologists, wildlife rehabilitators and animal handlers. Safe vaccines are available, but boosters may be required for initial protection against exposure. Information about pre-exposure immunization can be obtained through the local health department or a physician.
Samples to Collect
If there is concern about this condition, contact a conservation officer or an Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional Office. Appropriate samples can be collected for testing if deemed necessary. Any animal suspected of having rabies should be reported to the nearest Idaho Department of Fish and Game Regional Office, conservation officer, or animal control officer. If a rabies suspect animal must be killed, do not shoot it in the head or damage the head, as the intact brain is necessary for testing. Caution must be taken in approaching a suspected rabid animal, since many rabid animals are very aggressive and can still bite even when they appear to be paralyzed. During euthanasia and handling of rabies suspects, care should be taken to avoid exposure to rabies. Rubber or latex gloves or a plastic bag turned inside out should be used to handle animals to avoid direct skin contact with the animal. The animal should be placed in a double plastic bag and placed in a leak proof container for transport to the laboratory.
Can I Eat The Meat?
Meat from animals that die of rabies is not appropriate for human consumption. Do not feed the meat from animals suspected of having rabies to dogs or cats.
What is IDFG doing to help manage this disease?:
IDFG provides assistance in testing rabies suspect animals for rabies. Information on dealing with bats and other potential hosts is available.
Domestic or wild animals which exhibit the abnormal behavior or aggressiveness should be considered to be potentially rabid. If there is any risk of exposure to humans or domestic animals, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, or the local Health District Office should be notified so that the necessary precautions can be taken to retrieve the animal and get it sent to the laboratory for testing.
How do I learn more about this disease?