Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system and causes death within days after the onset of symptoms. The first symptoms are fever, chills, headache, and fatigue leading to confusion, insomnia, paralysis, hypersalivation, and other neurological symptoms. All mammals are susceptible to the virus, but in Alabama, raccoons are a well known reservoir for the disease as are bats, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and of course, domestic dogs and cats that have not been vaccinated. The disease is transmitted through contact with saliva from an infected animal – typically through bites. Exposure through means other than a bite is rare. Other mammals like rodents, rabbits, and opossum are possible carriers for the disease, but the occurrence is much lower than with other mammals.
If an animal bites you, wash the wound immediately with warm soapy water and contact your physician. If the animal is a possible carrier for the disease, you may be treated with the rabies vaccine. Treatment consists of a series of six shots given in the arm over a 28-day period. The treatment has a 100% success rate when the regimen is begun immediately following exposure. Rabies is 100% fatal if no treatment is received. Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months following exposure.
The best practice to control rabies is to prevent exposure. Immunize all pets and do not attempt to handle wild animals or raise them as pets. Owning a wild animal in the state of Alabama is illegal – not to mention dangerous for the animal and the human. To date, over 8,000 cases of rabies have been identified in the state of Alabama, with domestic dogs, foxes, and raccoons being the most common carriers. Of these, only seven cases were human rabies.