CULLMAN, Ala. – Earlier this week, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) confirmed a raccoon to be positive for rabies after it attacked a person on a walking trail near a subdivision on Fox Hollow Road in Cullman. The raccoon attacked a bystander in an aggressive manner while exhibiting other neurological signs of illness. Fortunately, the raccoon was able to be subdued, restrained and collected for rabies testing.
Following an investigation by the Cullman County Health Department, three people were potentially exposed and have received rabies post-exposure treatment to prevent infection.
The health department routinely tests animals that have exposed other animals and humans for rabies, especially when the animal is a stray or has an unknown vaccination status. According to Dr. Dee W. Jones, state public health veterinarian, “Wildlife species pose the greatest risk of rabies, and they should be avoided if at all possible, especially when the animal is acting strangely or aggressively.” He adds that wildlife can, and do, frequently infect pets and other domestic animals.
Animals that are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal are usually treated with a booster rabies vaccine and a short quarantine period. Dr. Jones said keeping your pets vaccinated is the best way to ensure that the animals are protected from such encounters with a rabid animal. A pet that is exposed to rabies and is currently vaccinated is very unlikely to develop rabies and is allowed to undergo a much less strict quarantine following a booster vaccine dose.
The rabies virus is transmitted by saliva. In general, rabies exposure requires direct contact with infected saliva, usually through a bite or a scratch, but other less common contact exposures with mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) are also considered as potential exposures.
Area residents are advised to take the following precautions to avoid possible exposure to rabies:
- Do not allow pets to run loose; confine them within a fenced-in area or with a leash.
- Do not leave uneaten pet food or scraps near your residence.
- Do not illegally feed or keep wildlife as pets.
- Do not go near wildlife or domestic animals that are acting in a strange or unusual manner.
- Caution children not to go near any stray or wild animal, regardless of its behavior.
- Advise children to tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by any animal.
A person who is bitten or scratched by an animal should wash wounds immediately with mild soap and water, apply first aid and seek medical attention or contact the county health department immediately.
Alabama state law requires that dogs, cats and ferrets 12 weeks of age and older be current with rabies vaccination. Rabies vaccines are also available for horses and other livestock if recommended by a veterinarian. Vaccinating animals reduces the risk of rabies infection should an exposure occur; thus, vaccinations help protect animals, as well as their owners and caretakers.
For more information about rabies and prevention, please contact ADPH at (334) 206-5100 or visit alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/rabies.html.