Aminal Bites and Rabies Exposures


Rabies is a viral disease that can affect all warm‐blooded animals (skunks, dogs, bats, cats, cattle and even humans) and some more likely than others. In Iowa, rabies is most commonly found in skunks and bats.  Rodents, such as squirrels and mice, and rabbits very rarely get rabies. In addition, people that wake up to find a bat in the room or children that are alone with a bat in a room may have been exposed to rabies.  Bat’s teeth are so small you may not have known you were bitten.  The virus is spread when saliva containing rabies virus gets into an opening in the skin, usually by the bite of a rabid animal or if saliva from a rabid animal gets into your mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth) or any open wounds.  The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

What should you do if an animal bites you or have a possibly exposure to rabies?

Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. See a doctor about the wounds as soon as possible. Your doctor, possibly in consultation with the state health department, will help decide if you need treatment to prevent rabies. In addition, bite wounds can become infected and a physician will decide if you need antibiotics. You should also check with a physician about the possible need for a tetanus shot.

It is important to confirm whether or not the animal could have been rabid at the time of the bite. Detain or hold the animal ONLY if it can be done safely.  Note what the animal looks like and the location of the animal. Call for help and report this information to your local county health department, an animal control officer or local law enforcement.   A 10-day confinement might be ordered for domestic healthy animals to observe for rabies symptoms.  If the animal is not vaccinated it may be required to be kenneled at a vet or shelter so it can be closely monitored.  Rabies testing cannot be done on a live animal.  Wild or unhealthy animals suspected of rabies may be euthanized and sent on for brain matter testing by a vet.

What can you do to prevent rabies exposures?

  • · Vaccinate your dogs and cats, as well as valuable livestock and keep them up to date.  Rabies vaccines can last up to three years depending on the vaccine used. Vaccinating our pets creates a barrier between rabies in the wild and people.

  • · Spay and neuter your pets.  This helps keep the unwanted and stray animal population down.  Stray animals are at higher risk for rabies exposures from wild animals.

  • · Rabies exposures can lead to thousands of dollars in medical care and follow up treatment. Not to mention the physical and emotional toll that can result from animal bites. It is well worth the cost of rabies vaccines to prevent this from happening to someone.

Bite Prevention

  • · Do not approach or try to handle animals, including dogs and cats that you do not know.  Animal bites increase in the warmer months as animals and people are more likely to be outside.
  • · Do not touch sick or injured animals. Call and report them to an animal control officer or local law enforcement.
  • · Do not let your pets roam; keep them restrained. Train and socialize them so they are calm around people.
  • · Educate children about bite prevention. Children are the most common victims of severe dog bites.

For more information visit https://www.idph.iowa.gov/rabies or https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/

By Stephanie Claussen

ACHS Community Health Coordinator

The information provided on the Adair County Health System’s Blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice and care. If you have specific needs, please see a professional health care provider.
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