The rabies virus causes rabies infection. This virus can infect all warm-blooded animals and nearly always ends in death. Rabies is present throughout the world with the exception of Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and smaller islands like Hawaii. In much of the world, infected dogs have caused most of the human rabies cases (rabid cats biting humans is on the rise though).
In Wisconsin, the most common wild animals to carry rabies are the skunk and bat; however the raccoon, fox, coyote, bobcat and other carnivores can carry the rabies virus also. Since only mammals get rabies, birds, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians do not.
The rabies virus enters the victim through a bite, or occasionally a scratch, from a rabid animal. Rabies may also be transmitted from saliva of a rabid animal entering an open wound, like a scratch. The virus replicates in the muscle, then invades the nerves and goes to the central nervous system (the brain). This may take 14 to 90 days, occasionally longer. In the brain, the virus causes the animal to go into a fury. During this furious stage, the virus spreads to the salivary glands. Therefore when the animal is most excitable, vicious, and/or aggressive, he/she will transmit the virus through saliva to the next animal victim.
Signs of rabies disease vary but the most common is a change in attitude. Horses infected with rabies may often present with colic symptoms early is the course of disease. This then progresses to signs of erratic behavior like biting or snapping, chewing at the site of the wound, or biting at the stall. They often show signs of excitability irritability and viciousness. They may also have excess salivation or frothing, lack of muscle coordination, and disorientation. After these signs of the furious stage, the dumb stage occurs which includes depression, coma and then death. There is no treatment for rabies once the signs appear.
Since there is not a treatment for rabies in animals, and it is a human health hazard causing death, it is extremely important to keep your animals up to date on the rabies vaccine.
Puppies and kittens vaccinated between the ages of 3-12 months, and dogs and cats receiving their first vaccine, must be re-vaccinated one year later. Re-vaccination should be every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine used and where you live. In the event that your vaccinated pet is attacked or bitten by a rabid animal, make sure to have it re-vaccinated with a rabies booster by your veterinarian. If your pet is not vaccinated and attacked by a rabid animal, it may have to be destroyed or kept in strict isolation for 6 months. In the event that your pet bites a person, your pet will have to be quarantined for 10 days, to find out if it had rabies at the time it bit that person.
It is not required by law to vaccinate horses against rabies but we strongly recommend it. If your horse does contract rabies, it could put your life in danger.
Other ways to help prevent and control rabies include keeping your pets inside a home or yard; reminding children not to approach or touch wild animals or pets you do not own or know; and immediately reporting any bite, scratch or contact with a strange or wild animal. Since wild animals can pose a rabies threat, it is not a good idea to keep them as pets. Even a baby skunk or raccoon born in captivity, can be a rabies carrier.
In humans, when there is a bite from a suspected rabid animal, the wound is immediately scrubbed with soap and water and then dried. After the cleaning, a rabies antiserum injection is given as well as five rabies vaccines given over one month to neutralize the virus. This treatment has been successful when done properly. The suspected animal is killed and the head is tested for rabies. The only accurate test for the rabies virus is to look for the virus in brain tissue. Wild animals which bite a person are treated as if rabid and the person needs to see a physician immediately for treatment.
The answer to the title question is YES. You need to be concerned with rabies because it is a public health issue and everyone needs to be aware and protect his or her animals from this deadly disease. Furthermore, rabies disease appears to be cyclical in years, and now is the time that we may see more of this disease. If you have any questions about rabies, or if your pet does come in contact with a wild animal, call your veterinarian or the county humane officers or the police.