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Follow These Rabies Rules for Safety


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.

McGuill says rabies may rise and fall among animal populations -- in great part, because animals die from it -- but at this point it remains a problem. "There's no indication it's going away."

That said, DeMaria has some recommendations to avoid an exposure: First, avoid any animal you don't know -- especially one which is behaving unusually. That could mean an overly aggressive creature, but also one that is too docile. A raccoon or fox shouldn't be seeking human contact -- they're normally afraid.

"Second, reduce the environment and habitat for potentially rabid animals by reducing food and nesting sources," DeMaria says. "Third, immunize your pets -- cats and dogs."

And if you are bitten, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water -- this is an important step, since the virus may be broken down by soap. And always see a doctor.

Vital Information:

  • Since 1990, only 22 people have died from rabies, usually as the result of an unnoticed bite from a bat.
  • A person contracts rabies by coming into contact with the saliva or brain tissue of a rabid animal, but can prevent the disease with a series of seven shots over a month's time following exposure.
  • If you are bitten by an animal, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water, then see a physician.
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