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Stay Alert While Frolicking in Indiana Forests this Fall

September 24, 2014
Unusual pets, prairie dog and badger.

This article is brought to you by Got Nature?, Purdue specialists sharing hot topics.

What do the movies “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “Cujo” have in common other than dogs gone wild? Stumped? Aside from featuring “Man’s best friend” as a major character, both movies highlight a deadly disease frequently found here in Indiana. Rabies. When the dreaded word rabies is uttered in conversation most people immediately think of a wild uncontrollable killer lunging for the jugular or whatever prime piece of flesh is within striking distance. Reality is often much less sensational.

What is rabies?
The World Health Organization defines rabies as a viral infection transmittable from animals to humans that results in acute brain inflammation (encephalitis). Exposure to the disease does not automatically result in symptoms of infection. The virus can be present in the body for time periods of a few days to greater than 15 months. Wound proximity to spinal column and central nervous system (CNS) tissues often dictates time needed for symptoms to appear.

Symptoms of infection
Early symptoms of rabies in humans are fever, acute seizures, anxiety attacks, stiff limbs, and coma. Most rabies cases are caught early on when encephalitis is diagnosed by a physician to be a cause of patient illness. Once symptoms present themselves, fatality is almost always the outcome unless treatment is received. A Wisconsin girl survived without receiving the vaccine in 2004 but such instances of survival are rare.

Between 1900 and 1959, there were 120 human fatalities after rabies infection in Indiana compared to 23 between 1960 and 2006. The primary vectors between 1960 and 2006 were bats; with dogs and raccoons being the remaining vectors. While cases of rabies in domestic animals have remained low, cases in wildlife have escalated. It is more important than ever to continue to vaccinate pets.

Non-typical pets
It is important to note that non-typical pets (i.e. raccoons, ferrets, skunks, prairie dogs) must be vaccinated as well. Domesticated animals and pets (dog, cat, ferret) can be observed for 10 days after biting to determine if they are infected. Animals considered high-risk are euthanized immediately upon arrival of animal control. These animals are then tested by the Indiana State Department of Health Disease Control Laboratory.

For full article see, Got Nature?-Stay Alert While Frolicking in Indiana Forests this Fall.

Rabies Education, Indiana State Department of Health
Rabies Virus Infection, National Center for Infectious Diseases
Animal Bite and Scratch Exposure, Radiological and Environmental Management, Purdue University
Sick, orphaned or injured animals, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR)

Cited Stories
Western Indiana county reports rabid bats, WTHR.com
Rabid deer attacks woman, The Indiana Gazette

Shaneka Lawson, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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