Rabies is a viral illness that can affect humans and other mammals. The virus infects the central nervous system and, once individuals show signs of disease, is almost always fatal. Any mammal can contract the rabies virus. Wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes, account for the majority of animal rabies cases reported annually in the US. Since 1992, fox, bat, and raccoon rabies variants have been documented in New Hampshire. Since 1990, human rabies has been documented in one New Hampshire resident. This case occurred in 1996 and originated from a dog bite in Nepal.
How Rabies is Spread
The rabies virus is found in the brain, spinal cord, and saliva (spit) of an infected animal and is spread when these items touch broken skin, open wounds, or the eyes, mouth, or nose. In most cases, rabies is spread by the bite of an infected animal; however, there have been cases where contact (non-bite exposures) with the virus led to rabies infection. Special concerns arise when having contact with a bat or when finding a bat in a room or enclosed space.
What to do if You Think You've been Exposed to Rabies
If you have been bitten, scratched or have had contact with the saliva of an animal that you believe is rabid:
- immediately wash the exposed area with soap and water (or flush with water if contact involves the eyes, nose, or mouth) for at least 10 minutes; and,
- immediately call your doctor.
If your doctor recommends treatment, you will undergo a series of injections that should be given as soon as possible after an exposure to prevent you from developing illness.
Most human rabies cases in recent years have been associated with bats. If there is a chance you have had exposure to a bat through an unapparent bite, for example, the bat had direct contact with someone or was in a room with a sleeping individual, an unattended child or someone with mental impairment, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately to discuss the situation. The staff of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control is available at (603) 271-4496 for consultation and reporting of rabies exposures.
Rabies is Preventable!
To protect yourself and your family:
- Do not touch, feed, pick up or adopt wildlife or stray dogs or cats, even if they seem healthy or friendly. If you see an animal acting strangely, call your local animal control authority.
- Teach children to avoid wildlife and all animals they do not know well.
- Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if an animal bites them.
- Vaccinate pets. Vaccination is required by law in New Hampshire for dogs, cats, and ferrets 3 months of age and older, even if they stay indoors. Make sure to keep your pet's vaccinations up-to-date.
- If a pet has been in a fight with another animal, wear waterproof gloves when touching your pet. Call your veterinarian.
- If you have bats in your home, call a professional about bat-proofing your home.
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