Yes, rabies still happens, even in Wisconsin, and even to humans. And yes, this is a highly emotionally charged issue for many people.
All the doctors and many of the staff members at Veterinary Village are immunized against rabies, preventively. Yes, humans can be vaccinated if they are in high risk of exposure categories – veterinarians, laboratory workers, people who work with wildlife.
One of our staff members was immunized and received the immunoglobulin because a rabies suspect bit her. She was treated after the bite to protect her.
So how do you know if you need to have the immunoglobulin and rabies immunization after an animal exposure? The best answer is to talk to your veterinarian for animal testing and to your physician for your health care. In the absence of the availability of your doctor, you can use the following website to walk you through the scenarios, based on the type of exposure, the animal involved, and other details. The weblink for this is: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/rabies/algorithm/index.htm
It is very important that you keep your pets immunized. Dogs are required to be immunized for rabies according to all 50 state laws. Rabies vaccination requirements for cats are highly variable based on where you live. Sadly, many people try to cheat the system and not vaccinate their pets, especially cats. Cheating is not good for your health, the health of your family, or the health of your pets. IF you have a pet that is not vaccinated, and there is a bite wound, the State Veterinarian will have to consider your dog or cat a non-vaccinate and will either be quarantined or possibly euthanized for testing. Testing is not a pleasant event – it requires submitting brain tissue, meaning to the State Lab of Hygiene in Madison, if you are a Wisconsin resident. Having to euthanize a pet because you disregarded the rabies vaccination requirement is a very sad event. Don’t cheat!
But really, are there dogs and cats in Wisconsin with rabies?
The answer is yes, at times. A very good friend of mine picked 2 rescue dogs in another state from a commercial breeder and transported them to her home in Wisconsin. Before she picked them up, a kennel mate dog had died. Shortly after she returned with the 2 dogs to Wisconsin, one became ill. She took the dog to her veterinarian who wisely recognized the signs of illness and had the dog tested. The dog was positive for rabies. As a result, this well-meaning person, her family, and her neighbors, and their dogs all received post-exposure rabies vaccines.
And many of us in the Fond du Lac area recall the near-tragic case of a high school student who picked up a bat in church during mass and took it outside. This young woman contracted rabies and due to the brilliance of the Fond du Lac physician who diagnosed her and an experimental treatment provided at Children’s hospital in Milwaukee, she survived. She is now an adult with children of her own. Her survival truly was a miracle. Her story can be found here: http://www.rense.com/general58/bat.htm
The last human reported to have died in Wisconsin of rabies was in 2011, a mere 6 years ago, again contracted by a bat. His story is here: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/128906558.html/
One of our clients was exposed to a rabid kitten when she was pregnant many years ago. She went through rabies vaccinations while pregnant, something that had not been done before. Her son is now an adult, and all ended well with the pregnancy, the mother, and the child.
My sister lives in urban Minneapolis. She had 2 events of finding bats in her home with her cats playing with the bats. Even in the city, there are bats in homes and cats and dogs exposed.
As veterinarians, we had 17 hours of lectures on rabies. We are the experts in the medical field on rabies. Our human counterparts only get 1 hour or less. However, we are not permitted to make recommendations on human health. Clients need to rely on their physicians to make medical decisions. The veterinarians are the medical professionals who manage the animals who may have created a human exposure and submit the correct samples to the Wisconsin diagnostic lab for testing.
What Is The Bottom Line?
1. Immunize your dogs and cats. Don’t try to cheat on this – it’s not worth it. Follow your local and state laws.
2. Don’t handle any wild animals or dogs and cats you are not familiar with. Keep your kids safe.
3. If you have any animal exposure, keep the animal for testing. Contact your veterinarian immediately. Don’t shoot it in the head or beat it with a shovel. Don’t bury the animal. Keep the animal cool (but NOT frozen!) until we can get the animal to us and samples collected for testing.
4. Contact your physician if you may have had an animal exposure – bite, scratch, fluid in your eye, mouth, or an open wound.
5. If you work or play with animals that may transmit rabies to you, have pre-exposure prophylactic rabies immunizations and regular titers to be sure you are still protected. My titer is 38 years old – these last a long time and offer safe protection.