Animal Bites and Rabies

Rabies: Protect your pets, yourself, and your community

Rabies exists throughout San Mateo County and is a fatal disease for animals and for people if you don’t get medical attention right away. There is no cure for rabies once your pets are exposed but it can be prevented by making sure your pets are all vaccinated.

The best way to protect your furry family and your community is to get your cats and dogs vaccinated for rabies. And at the same time, be sure to get your pets licensed to help them return home if they get lost.

If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, get medical attention right away.

Rabies FAQ

What is rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that affects the central nervous system in mammals. The rabies virus is passed from animal to animal and from animals to humans typically by bite, but can also be transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal coming into contact with a person's eyes, mouth, nose, or any break in the skin.

Where does rabies exist?
Rabies is found on all continents except Antarctica. In developing countries, rabid dogs are a major problem and tens of thousands of people die from rabies each year. The majority of cases in the United States occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Wild, feral cats and groundhogs are also at high risk for carrying rabies as are coyotes and possums. In California, most cases of rabies occur in skunks and bats. As of September 2014, 113 rabid animals were identified in California, including 92 skunks, 20 bats and 1 cat. Here in San Mateo County, animals that have been infected with rabies have included dogs, cats, horses, and bats. Small and wild mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels, gophers, or indoor pet rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs are almost never infected with rabies.

How do I protect myself and my family from rabies?
Rabies deaths in people are preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, please contact your health care provider right away.

Here are steps you can take to prevent rabies:

1) Be a responsible pet owner. Keep your cats and dogs up-to-date on all their rabies vaccinations. Maintain control of your pets by keeping them under direct supervision to reduce their exposure to wildlife that may be infected with rabies. License your pets to ensure they can be returned to you if they get out or run away. Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated. Call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.

2) Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals. Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not handle or feed wild animals and place litter in closed garbage cans. Never adopt or bring wild animals into your home. Teach your children to never handle unfamiliar domestic or wild animals even if they appear friendly. Prevent bats from entering areas where they may come in contact with people or pets. When traveling abroad, be sure to avoid contact with animals (especially dogs) in developing countries where rabies is very common.

3) Receive pre-exposure vaccination when appropriate. Pre-exposure vaccinations may be recommended for people who may be in more frequent contact with potentially infected animals, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, field biologists, cavers, certain laboratory workers, and some international travelers.

How do I protect my pet from rabies?
Vaccinating your pet is the best way to prevent exposure. If your pet is not vaccinated and is suspected of having rabies, your animal may be quarantined and observed to determine whether it has been infected. Don't put yourself or your animal through this unnecessary stress - get your pet vaccinated and licensed to keep them healthy and know you are protecting your pet and our community.

How is rabies spread and how does a person get rabies?
Rabies is a virus that is usually passed to humans through the bite of a rabid animal. Occasionally, rabies can be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal gets into a fresh scratch, break in the skin or comes in contact with a human's eyes, mouth or nose. On very rare occasions, it has been transmitted during organ transplantation. Casual contact, such as touching a person with rabies or contact with non-infectious fluid or tissue (urine, blood, feces) does not cause exposure.

Because most bats’ teeth are extremely small and needle-thin, people can be bitten in their sleep and not have any visible wound or mark. For this reason, if you find a bat in your room when you wake up or see a bat in the room of an unattended child, mentally impaired, or intoxicated person, you should seek medical advice and have the bat tested, if possible, even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. To have the bat captured/removed, please call the Peninsula Humane Society at 650-340-8200.

What are the symptoms of rabies?
Rabies symptoms in humans usually appear 3 to 8 weeks after exposure, but can appear anytime from within a few days to after several years. The early symptoms can be very similar to those of the flu, including general weakness or discomfort, fever, and headache. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms such as discomfort or a prickling, itching sensation at the site of the bite appear. Anxiety, confusion, insomnia, agitation, partial paralysis, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, and an increase in saliva and fear of water can also occur. Once symptoms develop, the disease is almost always fatal.

Once someone is suspected of having rabies, the investigation process can take months to determine who else may have come into contact with the suspected animal. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to make sure the animals around you are vaccinated.

What is the treatment for rabies?
Once people develop symptoms, the disease is almost always fatal. For this reason, if you think you may have been bitten by a rabid animal, you should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water and seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor, in consultation with the Health System, will determine if you need a rabies vaccination. Decisions to start vaccinations of Postexposure Prophylaxis (PEP) will be based on the animal and type of exposure, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.

In the United States, PEP usually consists of one dose of Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14 day period. Human Rabies Immune Globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after the exposure. Additional doses of rabies vaccine should be given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the first vaccination.

Rabies vaccines are now relatively painless and are given in your arm, much like a flu or tetanus vaccine. PEP is 100% effective at preventing human rabies. There have been no vaccine failures in the United States (i.e. someone developing rabies) when PEP was given promptly and appropriately after being exposed to rabies.

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