You’re exploring the outdoors while camping with family and friends and a bat flies from nowhere and bites your arm. Taking quick action will help prevent you from contracting rabies.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected mammals to mammals or mammals to humans, usually by an animal bite.
Once symptoms appear, it is almost always fatal.
Which animals carry rabies?
Raccoons, skunks, foxes and especially bats are common rabies carriers. According to Marilyn King, a Marshfield Clinic infection prevention and control registered nurse, bats are most prevalent in Wisconsin followed by skunks.
“Any animal that bites needs to be tested or quarantined and observed,” King said.
Rabies is spread by saliva from a bite, but also can be transmitted if you are scratched.
Symptoms may not immediately appear
Signs and symptoms of rabies can include irritability, headache, fever and double vision, and itching at the bite site. As it progresses, rabies can trigger spasms of the throat and muscles, convulsions, delirium, paralysis and death.
Rabies may take one to three months before symptoms appear.
It needs to be treated before symptom onset,” King said. “After that time, treatments fail, and it’s usually fatal.”
Treatment starts with soap and water
King recommends immediately washing the bite.
“If you get bit by an animal, first wash the bite site for 10 to 15 minutes with warm water and soap,” King said. “Then contact the public health department because they will help find and quarantine the animal.”
Once documented, call your health care provider to receive different treatment shots.
Providers will give an immune globulin injection immediately after exposure and four to five injections of rabies vaccine. The vaccine used to be given in the stomach, but now goes into your arm like the flu shot and other vaccines.
More information can be found at the Marshfield Clinic health library.