Raccoon in wild

If you live in Austin, TX you may have recently heard about the two rabid raccoons found in North Austin in April this year. When multiple cases are reported within a close timespan there may be an outbreak of rabies in the area, since it is a very contagious virus. Raccoons specifically can carry their own version of the rabies virus.

Although an animal with rabies can be a scary thing to deal with if you find one, there are steps to take to make sure you stay safe. If you’re not sure what to do when you find an animal with rabies, or how to spot the signs of rabies, we’ve covered some tips on what to do below.

How to Spot Rabies

Common signs and symptoms of the rabies disease include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Problems walking
  • Fearfulness
  • Aggression
  • Unusual behavior, like animals typically seen only at night become active during the daytime
  • Some animals may exhibit self-mutilation, sensitivity to light, and depression

If you see animal, even if it is an animal you know, exhibiting these behaviors, make sure to get safely away and call 3-1-1.

What to Do if You Find an Animal with Rabies

To start off, here is what you should do if you find an animal possibly infected with rabies:

  1. Stay away from the animal and make sure all pets and children are at a safe distance or indoors.
  2. Notify anyone in the surrounding area if possible to keep away from the animal.
  3. Call 3-1-1 to report the animal that may have rabies, and make sure to include your location and where you last saw the infected animal.

If you have been bit or suspect you’ve been infected by an animal with rabies:

  1. Wash the wound immediately with soap and water.
  2. Seek medical attention right away.
  3. You should also make sure to call 3-1-1 to report the animal, especially if it is acting aggressively.

What is Rabies and What Causes Rabies

Rabies is a highly contagious virus that spreads quickly and can infect any mammal, from animals to humans, through saliva. Only mammals can get rabies because the rabies virus needs a high core temperature to survive. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, travelling to the brain, and then quickly reproduces. It then travels back through the nerves infecting the rest of the body. This makes the rabies virus lethal once it has reached the brain.

The rabies virus uses saliva as its transmission route and is not a vector-borne pathogen, meaning it doesn’t use mosquitoes or other parasitic insects to travel to hosts. It thrives on moisture and can only survive in a specific temperature range. When the virus reaches the salivary glands, it releases saliva into the mouth. If this happens, it means the disease has damaged the brain and this is the point where violent behavior can occur. Once these symptoms appear, the virus is nearly always fatal and the animal eventually dies in a matter of hours.

How Long Does it Take for Rabies to Develop

In animals, the incubation period of the rabies virus depends on the species of animal. The incubation period for dogs can range from 14 to 60 days, or longer. It also depends on how large the dose of the rabies virus the animal was exposed to and the size, location, and severity of the animal bite or scratch.

According to the American Humane, a typical incubation period, which means the amount of time between exposure to the disease and the beginning of symptoms, is 3 to 8 weeks, but can be as little as 9 days and as long as several years in rare cases. The incubation period for humans ranges from 2 to 8 weeks, in some cases 10 days to 2 years.

How Do You Get Rabies?

For humans to become infected they have to come into contact with saliva from an infected animal. Animals can become infected with the rabies virus through bite wounds or coming into contact with any of the nervous tissue of an infected animal.

What animals can get rabies?

Only mammals can get rabies. However, it is extremely rare for opossums, which are marsupials, to get rabies. Here’s a list of the most common animals that can carry rabies:

  • Wild Animals: Raccoons, Skunks, Bats, and Foxes
  • Farm Animals: Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Horses, and Pigs
  • Pets: Dogs, Cats, and sometimes Ferrets

Can mosquitoes and other insects carry rabies?

When it comes to pathogens, diseases, and viruses, mosquitoes are considered vectors, meaning they can carry pathogens from host to host and infect them. Malaria is a good example of a vector-borne pathogen, since you can catch malaria from a mosquito bite.

You cannot catch the rabies disease from a mosquito or other insect bite.The rabies disease is only transmitted through saliva. Mosquitoes use a different tube to inject saliva than the one that draws blood from a host, so essentially there is no backwash or chance of passing on the infection.

Can reptiles, fish, and birds get rabies?

Fish, birds, and reptiles cannot be infected with rabies because their core body temperatures are lower than a mammal’s core body temperature. This means the virus cannot survive in the host. Rabies can become inactive on its own if there isn’t enough moisture, and if the temperature is extremely cold or extremely hot. Research has shown that the rabies virus is not infectious if it has dried out or been exposed to sunlight for a long period of time.

Can dead animals transmit rabies?

The rabies virus cannot survive for very long outside of its host’s body on its own. But it can actually survive in the body of a dead animal for longer periods of time. Which means rabies can spread to a new host if the new host comes into contact with any of the dead animal’s saliva or brain and nervous tissues.

This is why it’s important to report any animals infected with rabies. To make sure the virus doesn’t spread, disposing of the animal’s body before any other animals can find it is important.

Is there a cure for rabies?

There is no cure for rabies yet, only a vaccine to help prevent the disease for humans and animals. It’s important to make sure your pets stay up-to-date on the rabies vaccine, as it is usually fatal if they contract it. The Austin Animal Center is one of many helpful animal organizations in Austin that offers free and low cost services for spaying, neutering, and vaccinations.

It’s also important to make sure you and your children receive the rabies vaccine. In unvaccinated humans, if the neurological symptoms of the virus have already developed, it is almost always fatal. It is a painful and deadly disease. It’s reported by the Immunization Action Coalition that 55,000 people around the world die from the rabies disease. And while it is rare in the United States, it still happens. Rabid dogs are the cause of over 90% of human rabies cases.

It is very important to vaccinate. Vaccinations after a person has been bitten and exposed to the virus can work in preventing rabies, but the vaccine must be administered right away, at least within 6 days of infection.

More Information on Rabies

If you would like to learn more about rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC is a great resource for news reports on outbreaks of the rabies disease, vaccines and treatment for rabies, and ongoing research on rabies.