Every year, more than 55,000 people are infected with rabies, and nearly half of them are children under 15. Almost all will perish from this disease. Few of these people live in the United States because we have such strong rabies vaccination laws. In Flathead County, it is a legal obligation of all dog owners to vaccinate their dogs. While not required by law, all cats should also be vaccinated.
Rabies has come to Flathead County this year—in bats. Between 2008 and September 8th of this year there were 148 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in Montana. While most of these were in wildlife—bats and skunks—there were cases in cattle, horses, dogs and cats.
Once a human is bitten by an animal that COULD have, there is only one course of action recommended—a post exposure inoculation. It is important to get the vaccine even before a lab has confirmed rabies, if the animal that bitten is there to be tested. The vaccine should be administered as soon as possible, and the sooner you get it the better chance of survival. An average of 40,000 people are exposed to rabies every year in the US, but because of quick responses, only 2 people on average perish because of the disease.
As for animals, if you suspect your animal has been in a fight with a wild animal, it is important to get them into quarantine. While Flathead County only has laws regarding dogs and exposure to rabies, these are good guidelines for all animals that could have been exposed. In the US, nearly 4 times more cats have been confirmed to have rabies than dogs every year since 2008.
According the Flathead County law:
“Any person shall have the authority to order the owner of any dog showing symptoms of rabies or any dog which has bitten any person so as to cause an abrasion of the skin or any dog that has been bitten by or exposed to any animal suspected to have been infected with rabies to deliver such dog to the Flathead County Animal Control Center for quarantine for a period not to exceed fifteen (15) days. Such dog at the option of the owner may be quarantined under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian except as specified below:
In the case of an unvaccinated dog which is known to have been bitten by a laboratory-confirmed rabid animal, said bitten dog must be immediately destroyed.
In the case of a vaccinated dog which is known to have been bitten by a laboratory-confirmed rabid animal, said dog shall be revaccinated within 24 hours and quarantined for a period of thirty (30) days following revaccination. Said dog shall be destroyed if the owner does not comply with the provisions of this section.”
The county takes rabies very seriously, and so should all animal owners. Rabies is a painful way to die, and it is almost 100% fatal. There is no cure, though there are a few experimental protocols for humans, and there is a vaccine for most many animals and humans. If everyone vaccinates their dogs and cats, the human exposure drops. This is why so many states and counties, including Flathead, have made it part of their laws that dogs—the most common source of rabies infection to humans world wide.
World Rabies Day is happening tomorrow, September 28th. Flathead County Health Department is vaccinating dogs and cats from 10 am to 2 pm at 1035 1st Avenue West in Kalispell. Cats and licensed, altered dogs will be $10. Altered, unlicensed dogs will be $25 (license will come with) and unaltered dogs will be $40 (license will come with).