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DPHHS urges caution regarding rabies exposures

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 2, 2015

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-093

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

DPHHS urges caution regarding rabies exposures

State and local public health officials remind Montanans to be aware of the risk for exposure to rabies this time of year. Rabies is a fatal viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm blooded animals but it is also preventable.

The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals from the bite of a rabid animal. Although exposures can occur anytime, spring and summer are the seasons when most exposures occur as humans and animals emerge from the long Montana winter.

Skunks are the most common four legged animals infected with rabies in Montana, however, the majority of reported human exposures result from bats. In 2014, there were hundreds of reports of animal bites in Montana, including over 42 reported encounters between bats and people. During the same period, 11 of the 105 bats and 5 of 11 skunks submitted to the Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory tested positive for rabies.  Rabies is also not limited to wild animals; in 2014, two dogs and one cat also tested positive.

Last year, over 122 people in Montana were started on the rabies post-exposure treatment due to an exposure to a rabid or suspected rabid animal. Treatment costs range from $2,000 to $7,000 per person.

“Be smart this spring and summer and take time to learn a few basic tips that will protect you and your family,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Richard Opper.

To avoid possible exposures, keep the following rabies prevention tips in mind:

  • Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Teach children never to touch wild animals or handle bats, even dead ones. Ask children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies.  All dogs and cats should have a current rabies certificate.
  • Bat-proof your house. Close all outside openings larger than 3/8” in the walls, roofs, and floors. Put screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering.
  • Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals are not seen during the daytime. If you see one and it is acting strangely, leave it alone and contact the local health department or animal control agency.

If you or your child has any contact with a bat, or are bitten or scratched by any wild or stray animal, please do the following:

  • Wash any bite or wound with soap and water.
  • Contact a health care provider or public health department for appropriate follow-up.

Because bat bites can be difficult to detect, it is important that any potential physical contact with a bat be brought to the attention of a health care provider or public health officials for a risk assessment. Bats found in homes, especially sleeping areas, are a concern because people can be bitten by bats and not even be aware they were bitten. “It is important to consult with health authorities if you find a bat in your home,” Opper said.

"We urge people not to approach or feed wild or and stray animals and never touch a bat,” said Elton Mosher of the DPHHS Communicable Disease and Epidemiology Bureau. “Protect yourself, your pets and the community by getting your animals vaccinated and don’t touch wild animals.”

Officials remind anyone who may have been exposed not to destroy the animal before speaking to contacting the local health department.  It may be possible to observe some animals to rule out rabies and eliminate the need for preventive treatment. Contact the local health department or animal control for instructions on what to do.  More information can be found at http://dphhs.mt.gov/