Follow These Rabies Rules for Safety
"Most people still think you get them in the stomach -- and you
absolutely don't," says Slote. But you can get the RIG injected in unusual
places -- depending on where the bites are. "Nina had three places where
the fox bit or scratched her and she had to have some RIG injected into each of
The HDCV/RIG regimen is a huge advance from what might be called the Dark
Ages of rabies treatment, Vitale says, when the vaccinations were so numerous
they had to be given in places such as the abdomen -- and even then, didn't
"It's much easier to treat patients and much easier to recommend
treatment," says Alfred DeMaria, MD, director of communicable disease
control at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "Now the risk of
treatment is virtually nil."
Which is not to suggest anyone who comes in contact with a rabid animal
necessarily needs treatment. It really depends on how "contact" is
defined. Public health experts say the greatest danger lies in getting the
saliva of a rabid animal, or its brain or nervous system tissue, into an open
cut. That could happen through a bite, of course, or indirectly.
That was the case with Roland Vaillancourt, a paramedic from Greenville,
N.H. One day eight years ago he noticed an odd sight: a raccoon wandering
around a neighborhood in daylight. "So something was wrong," he says.
"It was acting very unusual -- slow [breathing], unsteady gait. We just
decided to put it down at that point."
He used a bow and arrow, and accidentally cut himself on the arrowhead,
which was tainted with the raccoon's nervous system tissue. But Vaillancourt
underwent PEP and didn't have any problem.
Another method of indirect exposure: getting saliva or nervous system tissue
splashed onto a mucous membrane, such as the eye. But experts say it's
important to note that blood, urine, and droppings from rabid animals cannot
transmit the virus.
Cats and dogs were once important rabies transmitters -- but no more. Now,
raccoons are king up and down the East Coast. In fact, three years ago, Canada
mounted an intensive effort to keep rabid raccoons from spreading into Ontario.
Planes flew over the border, dropping thousands of oral rabies vaccine doses
hidden inside food bars. It failed.
Ontario's current efforts to control the disease's spread include
establishment of a five-kilometer "kill" zone at two entry points --
where every raccoon seen is exterminated. There is also an outer zone in which
raccoons are trapped and vaccinated. And beginning in June, a shower of
vaccinated bait bars will be airdropped into the area.
A similar effort on Cape Cod, Mass., seems to have done the trick. DeMaria
says raccoon rabies there have been virtually eliminated.