ThedaCare Health Matters

Rabies a rare but deadly disease

Recently, I saw a report that a bat tested positive for rabies in Green Lake County. What do you need to know about rabies? Rabies is a viral illness contracted through exposure to the virus through contact with an infected animal. Fortunately, rabies is rare in humans, but when it occurs it is generally a fatal illness. Several years ago, a young Fond du Lac woman contracted rabies and became the first known survivor of rabies in the world.

Rabies has been around for a long time. Even though human cases in the United States are very rare (only 1 to 3 cases annually) it remains a potential problem especially in rural areas where people can come in contact with wild animals.

I think my first knowledge of rabies was through the story “Old Yeller”. The rabies incidence in other countries is much higher with reports of tens of thousands of deaths worldwide each year. Most cases in the U.S. come from bites by bats. However, skunks, raccoons, foxes and other mammals are at risk for transmitting the disease. In other countries where dogs are not routinely vaccinated, they are the major source of disease.

Rabies is transmitted through contact with saliva or nerve tissue of an infected animal, usually through a bite. Rabid animals have been described as “foaming at the mouth” due to the infected saliva glands. It is rare, but handling a dead animal with rabies could transmit disease.

The incubation period (time from bite to illness) varies, but is generally one to three months. So there is a period of time when post-exposure preventive shots can be given before symptoms occur.

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