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DPHHS reminds the public to be rabies aware

Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:47:04-04

HELENA – The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and local health officials are reminding people to be rabies aware this spring and summer.

Rabies is a fatal disease that is carried in the saliva of infected warm-blooded mammals and is usually transmitted to people or other animals through a bite.

Wild bats and skunks are the most common animals in Montana to carry rabies. From 2013-2017, 95 animals tested positive for rabies at the Montana Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, 71 (75%) were bats and 21 (22%) were skunks.

Encounters between humans and wild animals often increase in once it starts warming up because more people are out hiking and engaging in other outdoor activities.

Domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats and livestock can be infected from exposures to bats and skunks though it is rare.

DPHHS Nurse Consultant Jen Fladager says the best thing a person can do is avoid contact with stray or wild animals, seek preventative care if a person thinks they have been exposed and make sure each pet is vaccinated.

“This is protective to their health and also to yours it creates a barrier around your family where an animal if it comes into contact with their pet,” says Fladager.

DPHHS also recommends that people inspect their cabins and homes this summer to make sure no bats have taken roost.

If a person is bitten by a domestic dog, cat or ferret, the animal can be observed for signs of rabies, but unusual does not need treatment. If an animal cannot be located for observation or testing, a person may need to undergo a series of shots to prevent rabies.

But that doesn’t mean that infection won’t happen. In 2017, administration of treatment to prevent infection was recommended to over 200 individuals by local public health officials.

“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 are effective.”

DPHHS and the Department of Livestock 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 unfamiliar animal 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 wild 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. Take steps to prevent bats from entering the 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. To avoid trapping any young bats who will die or try to make their way into your rooms, seal the openings permanently 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.

For more information on rabies visit here.