Though rare, the threat of rabies, a lethal virus that attacks the brain, is still around. And it’s a special concern if you have children who spend a lot of time outside, where they may run into an infected dog, cat, raccoon or skunk. As for your friendly neighborhood pooch, don’t assume he’s infection free—especially if he enjoys frequent romps in the woods.
Early signs of rabies, which is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, are a stinging sensation at the site of the bite or scratch, restlessness, sensitivity to temperature changes and intense mood swings, ranging from rage to calm. As the disease progresses, convulsions, paralysis, heart failure and death occur.
What should you do if you or your child is bitten by an animal? Have someone call animal control right away, and wash the wound with soap and water. Apply an antiseptic immediately afterward. Your doctor may decide to begin rabies treatment by administering a passive antibody. Half of the antibody is injected directly into the wound, the other half into the muscle. The antibody is followed by a vaccine, which consists of five injections given over a span of 28 days.
Better than treating rabies, of course, is to prevent it in the first place. Teach your kids at an early age to keep their distance from unfamiliar dogs, cats and wild animals. Tell them to stand still and remain quiet when approached by an unfamiliar dog, and to walk, rather than run, when passing a dog on the street.
If you have a dog, set a good example yourself by obeying local leash laws and reporting any animal that bites without provocation.