World Rabies Day reminder to learn about, prevent rabies

BISMARCK – World Rabies Day, a global day of action and awareness for rabies prevention, was recognized this week.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Division and the North Dakota Department of Health are reminding citizens to educate themselves about rabies. Though the burden of rabies has been greatly reduced due to vaccination and education, there is still more work to be done in combatting rabies, which is fatal to both animals and humans.

Rabies can affect all mammals, including wild animals, domestic animals (like pets and livestock), and humans. It is almost always contracted by exposure to a rabid animal, typically through a bite, but it can also be transmitted through saliva contact with broken skin or mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, or mouth). The virus can also be transmitted through contact with a rabid animal’s nervous system tissue, such as the brain.

“If you were bitten by an animal, you should consult a healthcare provider as soon as possible,” said Michelle Feist, epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health. “In some cases, especially those involving bats, it can be difficult to determine whether an exposure occurred. If you think you may have had direct contact with a bat, you should contact your healthcare provider.”

In addition to contacting a healthcare provider, people can also contact their local public health unit, or the North Dakota Department of Health if they were bitten or think they were exposed to rabies.

“It is important for pet owners to get their pets vaccinated against rabies,” said Dr. Beth Carlson, Deputy State Veterinarian. “The vaccine is affordable and very effective.”

The most common rabies virus carriers in North Dakota are skunks. In 2016, there were 16 cases of animal rabies in the state. To date in 2017, there have been 11 animal cases of rabies, including two rabid cats and nine rabid skunks.

Exposure to rabies may be minimized by:

  • Eliminating contact with all stray dogs and cats
  • Having pet dogs, ferrets and cats vaccinated
  • Staying away from all wild animals, especially those behaving abnormally
  • Avoiding keeping exotic or wild animals as pets
  • Wearing protective gloves when working with sick livestock
  • Keeping bats out of your home

Additional information about rabies is available on the Department of Health website at www.ndhealth.gov/disease/Rabies/ or by calling 701-328-2378 or 800-472-2180; or on the Department of Agriculture website at www.nd.gov/ndda/disease/rabies or by calling 701-328-2655.