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Public health officials issue a rabies reminder

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April 18, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

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


Public health officials issue a rabies reminder


State and local public health officials are reminding Montanans to be aware of the risk for exposure to rabies as summer approaches. Encounters between humans and wild animals often increase in spring and summer months because of the time spent hiking and engaging in other outdoor activities.

From 2010 to 2016, 141 animals submitted for testing to the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) were positive for rabies. Most of the animals were bats (67%), some were skunks (26%), and a few were other wild and domestic animals.

Rabies is a fatal disease. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected warm-blooded mammals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals through a bite. Bats are a great concern in Montana because a bite may not be noticeable.

“Rabies can be prevented by avoiding physical contact with stray or wild animals and seeking preventive treatment if you think you have been exposed,” said Jen Fladager, a nurse with the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

If someone is bitten by a domestic dog, cat or ferret, the animal can be observed for signs of rabies, almost always avoiding the need for treatment. If an animal cannot be located, observed or tested, a person may need to undergo a series of shots to prevent rabies. In 2016, administration of treatment to prevent infection was recommended to 153 individuals.

“Prevention of a potential exposure to rabies, and ultimately a human rabies case, is our primary objective,” Fladager added. “In Montana, the last case of rabies in a human was diagnosed in 1997. This shows veterinarians’ efforts to vaccinate pets and public health’s efforts to identify and treat people who have been exposed is effective.”

DPHHS and DOL remind everyone of the following rabies prevention tips:

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.

Avoid animal bites from domestic animals.  Teach children to never approach an animal at large, and to always ask an owner’s permission prior to petting an animal. Another common source of bite exposures are adults attempting to rescue a feral animal. Sick or injured animals that have not been socialized can become aggressive when someone attempts to handle them.

Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies. Cats are especially susceptible to rabies exposure as a result of more contact with wild animals than dogs. All dogs and cats should have a current rabies certificate.

Bat-proof your house. Bats must not be allowed in living areas of your home. Put screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering. You can prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points, loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats crawl out and leave, but cannot re-enter. To avoid trapping any young bats who will die or try to make their way into your rooms, seal the openings permanently after August or in the fall after bats have left for the season.

Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals avoid humans and seeing skunks and bats during the daytime is rare. If you see an animal acting strangely, leave it alone and contact law enforcement or an animal control agency if you think it may pose a danger.

“Any bat that has physical contact with a person, or is found in an area where contact may have occurred but gone undetected, such as a bedroom with a sleeping adult or child, should be tested for rabies when possible,” Fladager said. “Do not damage the head of the bat, because the brain is needed for the rabies test. If you or your child has any contact with a bat or find a bat in your home, or are bitten or scratched by any wild or stray animal, contact your health care provider for appropriate follow-up.”

For additional information on rabies visit the DPHHS website at www.dphhs.gov or contact your local health department.