If you think an exposure to a rabid animal has occurred, call your doctor immediately.
Any serious animal bite should be cared for as soon as possible in a hospital's emergency department.
In addition to the potential for transmission of rabies, other medical issues need to be checked:
Even the most trivial bite can transmit rabies. Any bite or scratch by a rabid animal warrants the administration of rabies shots. Whether or not that animal is at risk for rabies depends somewhat on the region of the country and on the species of the animal. Any exposure to a bat where a bite cannot be ruled out is a significant exposure.
When bitten by an animal, you should always care for the wound immediately by washing it out with soap, water, and some sort of commercial antiseptic iodine solution, if available. This will help kill the common bacterial germs that may be passed by the bite but also has been shown to decrease the likelihood of transmission of the rabies virus, should the animal be rabid.
If the animal is a pet, get the owner's name, address, and phone number, if possible. This information will aid the local public health authorities as they monitor the animal.
If the animal is a wild animal, or stray dog or cat, contact the local animal control authorities (your local humane society or city or county public health office) immediately. They will attempt to safely capture the animal for examination. The victim or other bystanders should not attempt to capture or subdue the animal. This might lead to further bites or exposures.
If the animal is a bat, and the exposure occurred in a building, the doors and windows should be shut in the room containing the bat after all other people are evacuated. If this cannot be done without risk of repeat exposure to the bat, then the most important thing is to minimize the chance of contact between that bat and other people. Once again, call local animal control authorities, and they will capture the bat.
Bat exposures are different from any other animal. There does not necessarily have to be a detectable bat bite to constitute a significant exposure.
If a bat bite or direct contact cannot be ruled out, then there may have been a significant exposure, such as in the following circumstances:
If you have been exposed to rabies, maintain contact with the local health authorities and stick to the schedule of prescribed rabies vaccine shots. Contact your doctor after treatment in the emergency department. Your doctor may refer you for the additional doses of the vaccine if the doctor does not have them on hand.
Local discomfort at the site of the injection is expected. You may apply warm compresses and take over-the-counter pain remedies. Any reactions differing from this should be discussed with your doctor.
Prevention of rabies depends on decreasing the disease in the animal kingdom. Avoid contact with wild animals and strays. Have your pets vaccinated against rabies. Keep pets under control and away from wild animals and strays.
If you get timely, appropriate wound care and rabies shots, you will be virtually 100% protected against rabies.
To date, there have been no failures of this treatment in the United States.
Failures overseas, however, have occurred despite seeking medical care after exposure because doctors either failed to give wound care, did not inject the immune globulin around the bite or wound site, or did not give the vaccine in the correct spot (for example, vaccine was given in the buttocks).
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