Whether you are in your home, walking in your neighborhood or hiking on a trail, it is important to know what to do if there’s a chance you have been exposed to rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus that is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. Even tiny breaks in the skin allow the rabies virus to spread from the infected animal to humans and other animals. Taking the right action can make a big difference in keeping yourself, your pets and our community safe from rabies.
Treatment for rabies is very costly and is not covered by all health insurance plans. Health Director, Gibbie Harris, reports that when someone has been potentially exposed to rabies, it is crucial for health officials to be able to assess the risk of exposure by testing or quarantining the identified animal. This is why it is very important for the public to know that they should get help from Animal Control to capture and remove the animal rather than to let it go.
In 2013, Buncombe County Health and Human Services reported 843 animal bites that required investigation by Disease Control Nurses to help victims determine if they were exposed to rabies. Over 20 people received rabies prevention care (clinically known as post-exposure prophylaxis – PEP).
According to Gibbie Harris, Buncombe County Health Director, the two most common mistakes people make are 1) letting a bat outside, leaving no way to test the bat for rabies; and 2) not having information that helps us investigate whether an animal that bit them or their pet was properly vaccinated.
Learn how to protect yourself and your pets from rabies. Important ways you can help prevent exposure to rabies:
Vaccinate your dogs, cats and livestock (cows and horses) and keep them up-to-date. Call animal control to help you capture a bat if it is in your home or remove a sick or injured wild animal near your home.
Do not feed, handle or adopt wild animals including wild or feral cats. More than 90% of all animal rabies cases reported each year occur in wild animals, primarily bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Teach children to avoid any contact with animals they do not know.
What do you do if…
1. You wake up and find a bat inside your home? Call animal control to remove it. It may be needed for a rabies test.
Do not remove a bat that you discover inside your house without calling Animal Control first. Contain the bat by carefully throwing a blanket or box over it or simply closing it in a room. Then call animal control to remove it. Bites from bats are so small that it is difficult to notice. Bats commonly have rabies, which means it is critical to test the bat for rabies. If health officials are unable to test the bat then those who were exposed will need rabies prevention care.
2. You, your child, or your pet is bitten by someone’s pet? Do not leave the scene of the incident until you have exchanged contact information (phone number and residence) with the pet owner.
3. A sick or aggressive animal is near your home? Call Animal Control to remove it.
If you see a dog, cat, fox, raccoon, skunk or other wild animal that seems sick or aggressive it is best to call Animal Control to remove it. They are trained to capture animals that might have rabies or other diseases. (Animal control does not remove otherwise healthy or stray animals.)
o Do you live in Asheville City Limits? Call Asheville Police – 252-1110.
o Do you live in Buncombe County? Call Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office – 250-6670
4. You had contact with the saliva of a sick or injured wild animal or have been bitten by any animal?
o Wash your hands and area exposed to saliva bitten or with soap and water.
o Call your doctor or the Department of Health right away! There is a vaccine that must be given soon (within 72 hours) to protect you from getting rabies.
o Call animal control to capture and remove the animal.
o All potential rabies exposures or bites are reported to Disease Control at Buncombe County Health and Human Services at 250-5109.
Be alert to signs that an animal may have rabies. Some animals may show no symptoms at all. Others may have all of these symptoms:
o Unusually aggressive behavior (attacking, biting)
o Increased drooling
o Stumbling or falling
o Refusing to eat
o Moving slowly or appearing paralyzed
o Wild animal may lose fear of people.