Rabies Awareness Month
June is Rabies Awareness Month and the Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) is reminding residents to take precautions against rabies this spring. Bats become active with the onset of warmer weather. Increased bat activity also means an increased possibility of rabies exposure for people and pets.
In 2015, a rabid bat was found in a Great Falls home. As a result, three unvaccinated cats were euthanized, two dogs were placed in 45-day quarantine and 3 people had to receive rabies post exposure shots. In Cascade County, a total of 47 people were recommended to receive rabies post-exposure shots in 2015.
Although bats are the main carrier of the rabies virus in Cascade County, rabies is usually transmitted through saliva from dog and cat bites or scratches. Bats are nocturnal creatures that can infect domestic dogs and cats without leaving an apparent bite or scratch mark.
Animals do not have to be aggressive or behaving erratically to have rabies. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior can be early signs of rabies. Bats that are on the ground, unable to fly, or active during the day are more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled. Current estimations state that less than 1% of bats have rabies. Bats are not to be feared, but it is important not to touch them.
Rabies prevention tips:
- Vaccinate your pets. Cascade County requires the vaccination of dogs and the City of Great Falls ordinances require that all cats, dogs, and ferrets over 6 months old be vaccinated against rabies. Cats and dogs are also required to have a City Registration. Currently there are not any USDA licensed vaccinations for hybrids (wolf-hybrids, Savannah cats, etc.)
- Never handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Teach children never to touch wild animals or handle bats, including dead ones. Encourage children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.
- Seek immediate veterinary assistance for your pet if your pet is bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat.
- Bat-proof your home. Put screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering. You can prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points, loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats crawl out and leave, but cannot re-enter. To avoid trapping any young bats who will die or try to make their way into your rooms, seal the openings permanently after August or in the fall after bats have left for the season.
- Report all potential exposures (bites/scratches) to a health care provider and CCHD. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten is crucial to prevent the disease in humans.