What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals. It is serious because people and pets with rabies can die after symptoms begin. In the United States, most reported rabies cases occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Less than ten percent of reported rabies cases occur in domestic animals like dogs, cats and cattle.
Human get sick after direct contact with the virus--usually when an infected animal bites a person. Usually, the virus spreads from the infected animal’s saliva after the saliva touches an open wound, cut, scratch, or mucous membrane (like your mouth, eyes or nose).
In Alexandria, possible rabies exposures are investigated by:
- Health Department
- Animal Control (under Animal Welfare League of Alexandria)
While these offices investigate possible exposures, these groups assist in preventing the spread of rabies are:
- Local veterinarians
- Health care providers
- Pet Owners
Bats and Rabies
Bats are an important part of our eco-system. They hunt many of the insects we consider nuisances (like mosquitoes). They are nocturnal, and we have more than one species native to Alexandria. While bats generally try to avoid people, most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States are caused by rabid bats. To protect yourself, your family and your pets:
- Vaccinate your dogs, cats and ferrets against rabies
- Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces (like homes, schools, and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets)
- Do not leave windows or doors open without screens--especially at night; cover any accesses bats could use to get into your attic.
- If you find a bat in your home or business, do not interact and do not automatically let it go. If it is still alive, do your best to trap it in an empty room and call Animal Control at 703.746.4774. You will be asked if the bat could have had contact with anyone in the house (pets, children, or sleeping adults).
Animal Control will help determine if a live bat should be released into the wild or tested for rabies. In general, all dead, sick or easily capture bats are tested. Any bat that could have had unknown contact with unvaccinated pets, children or sleeping adults will also be tested. Because rabies can be fatal, if exposure is unknown, the bat will be tested.
Rabies cases among humans in this country are rare due to the improved rabies vaccination programs for pets and for people who are bitten. The best way to prevent the spread of rabies to humans and to pets is by keeping pets properly vaccinated, along with control of stray dogs, cats and wildlife that can carry disease.
- Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and their shots are up to date. By law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies.
- Do not touch or feed stray animals
- Avoid wild animals, especially raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks
- Keep wild animals out of homes by capping chimneys with screens and blocking openings in attics, cellars and porches
- Do not handle sick, injured or dead animals.
- Teach children to avoid contact with wild animals and unfamiliar pets.
- If you find a bat in your home or business, do not interact and do not let it go. If it is still alive, do your best to trap it in an empty room and call Animal Control at 703.746.4774. You will be asked if the bat could have had contact with anyone in the house (pets, children, or sleeping adults).
What To Do if Bitten
Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the bite, either.
- Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. Washing thoroughly will greatly lessen the chance of infection. Give first aid as you would for any wound.
- If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don’t try to pick the animal up. Call Animal Control at 703.746.4774 to pick it up.
- If bitten by someone else's pet, get the owners contact information so Animal Control can follow up on the vaccination status of the pet. This could save you the time and money of getting unnecessary rabies treatment.
- If you or a family member was bit, go to the Emergency Room and explain how the bite happened. The ER is the better choice because family doctors do not stock the necessary anti-rabies treatment recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After your ER visit, follow up with your family doctor. If a pet was bitten, call your veterinary.
- Report the bite to the health department where you live.
The need for rabies vaccination should be evaluated under the advisement of your physician and/or a state or local health department official. Decisions to start vaccination, known as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the area where the exposure occurred.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- City of Alexandria's Animal Control