One of the main fears of people bitten by animals is the potential for rabies exposure. In the United States, human deaths from rabies is extremely low, approximately one or two per year. Worldwide, the problem is more severe, with approximately 50,000 human deaths yearly.
Rabies is a viral illness of mammals that is typically transmitted from one organism to another via a bite, which often transmits the virus to a new host via the infected saliva, although any contact with saliva to an open wound, or through mucous membranes could transmit the disease. All mammals can potentially get this viral illness, which affects the central nervous system. As the disease progresses through the nervous system, an infected animal has behavioral changes that may lead to aggression, and excessive salivation, increasing the potential for a bite and transmission. Although the disease can be readily transmitted across any mammal species, specific species that act as reservoirs for distinct strains of the illness have been identified as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Several species of bats are also reservoirs for strains of rabies ("Rabies Transmission," 2011).
Environment and Interactions
The keeping of mammals as pets, particularly unvaccinated animals, increases the potential exposure of humans to rabies, as animals come in contact with one another and potentially spread the virus. This has become more of an issue as environmental changes bring human habitations closer to wildlife. Because a viral illness can undergo rapid mutation, there has been an increase in various strains and animal reservoirs. Increased movement of humans and animal pets both within the United States, and through international borders also increases the possibility of spreading the disease ("Rabies," n.d.).
Routine pet vaccination helps decrease the likelihood of spread of rabies. Additionally, carnivores have a higher potential to spread the disease, and a natural fear of these predators can keep humans out of harm’s way.
As with most diseases, a main key to controlling the disease of rabies is through education. Educating the public about the disease, modes of transmission, and signs of illness in animals can greatly decrease the spread from the animal vector to humans. Further education as to the need to maintain up to date vaccine status in family pets is also important. Because of widespread mandatory pet vaccination, most cases of human rabies are transmitted through rabid wildlife, particularly bats. Humans that have been bitten by wild animals should be encouraged to seek treatment immediately so that a screening process may be instituted. Rabies immune globulin and a human vaccine are available, if necessary. Further education as to the need to maintain up to date vaccine status in family pets is also important. Education can be provided on bat-proofing homes as well ("Bat Exclusion," 2014). Little can be done about the endemic rabies in the wildlife population, aside from the possibility of wildlife population reductions in response to specific outbreaks; however, population suppression of wild animals is generally thought to be unwise, and would be determined on a case by case basis ("Rabies Manual," n.d.).
Initial Management of animal bites (including washing of the wound, control of bleeding, and seeking advanced treatment) is covered as a part of AHA's First Aid Course.
Exclusion guidelines. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.batcon.org/pdfs/binb/ExcludersGuidelines2014.pdf
How is rabies transmitted? (2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/transmission/index.html
Rabies control manual. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/rabiesmanual/introduction.htm
Rabies. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.healthofchildren.com/R/Rabies.html