Minnesotans encouraged to educate themselves to dangers of the rabies virus during World Rabies Day

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Saint Paul, Minn - The Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Department of Health are calling on Minnesotans to educate themselves about rabies as part of World Rabies Day on Thursday, September 28, 2017. World Rabies Day recognizes that even though vaccination and education have significantly reduced the impact of this disease, there is still more work to be done in combating the disease, which is fatal to both animals and humans.

“Today is about educating people about the rabies virus and encouraging actions that have led to a reduction of this virus in domestic animals and people,” said Rabies Program Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Courtney Wheeler. “This virus has potential to infect any mammal, and risk can be significantly reduced with proactive vaccination of pets and livestock. As always, consult your veterinarian with questions or concerns regarding rabies vaccines and/or potential exposure to the virus.”

There is no treatment for rabies, but the disease is preventable with vaccination and by preventing interactions between domestic animals, humans, and high-risk wildlife. In Minnesota, there have been 24 reported cases of rabies in animals to date in 2017. The disease is transmitted largely through the bite of an infected animal because the virus is found in saliva.

The most common rabies virus carriers in Minnesota are skunks and bats. Infected animals typically behave abnormally and should not be approached. If pets or livestock are bitten by a suspected rabid animal, contact your veterinarian immediately. Humans exposed to potentially rabid animals should contact their physician and the Minnesota Department of Health for advice as soon as possible after exposure.

“World Rabies Day is a sober reminder that throughout the world, an estimated 50,000 people die of rabies each year, mainly as a result of bites from infected dogs,” said MDH State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Joni Scheftel. “In the U.S., a strong public health infrastructure and the availability of rabies vaccines for animals and people have reduced human deaths to 1 to 5 annually. Most of these are from bat strains of the rabies virus.”

There are many steps people can take to decrease the risk of rabies exposure:

  • Keep dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses vaccinated for rabies.
  • Vaccinate cattle and sheep if feasible.
  • Keep stray animals and wildlife, especially skunks and bats, away from pets and livestock.
  • Do not attract wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
  • Do not approach unfamiliar or wild animals; teach children to do the same.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Report stray animals or animals acting unusually to local animal control.
  • Hunters and trappers should avoid animals exhibiting abnormal behavior.
  • Never leave children alone with any animal.
  • Bat-proof your home.
  • Avoid contact with dogs and cats while traveling, especially internationally.

Contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414 for questions or concerns regarding animal bites or exposures to bats.

The Board of Animal Health has additional rabies outreach and education resources available to veterinarians, clinics and the general public. Visit www.mn.gov/bah/rabies to view the 2017 update of the Rabies: Animals, People and Testing brochure, learn how to submit a suspect animal for testing, or view historic charts of rabies cases in Minnesota.