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What Is Rabies?

striped skunk

Rabies, sometimes known as hydrophobia, is a deadly disease of the brain. It is the most important wildlife disease risk to humans and pets in Vermont. Although rabies is a virus that is 100% fatal if not treated, it is also 100% preventable.

How Is Rabies Transmitted?

Rabies is spread through a bite or a scratch from an infected animal. The rabies virus is primarily concentrated in the saliva, brain and spinal column of a rabid animal. It is not found in blood, feces, or urine.

Raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes are the primary carriers of rabies in Vermont.

  • In Spring of 2019 two coyotes tested positive for rabies after one attacked people and the other was found acting strangely. These are the first confirmed cases of rabies in coyotes in Vermont.

Freezing does not kill the rabies virus. Heat and/or chemical agents such as Clorox will.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies?

You cannot tell whether an animal has rabies simply by looking at it. Rabid animals show a change in their normal behavior. Animals in the final stages of rabies may appear aggressive, tame, disoriented and may drool or make strange sounds.

What You Should Do if You Suspect Rabies Exposure?

  • If an animal bites you, wash the wound immediately and call your doctor.
  • Avoid any animal that exhibits strange behavior. Don't try and trap or capture the animal yourself.
  • Call the Rabies Hotline at 1-800-472-2437 (800-4-RABIES) or 1-802-223-8690.
  • Bats are wild animals and can transmit the rabies virus from saliva to blood in humans . Direct contact with bats should be avoided. A bat should be tested for rabies if it made physical contact with an individual, or is found in a room with an unattended child or a person who was sleeping.

How Do You Protect Yourself Against Rabies?

You can protect yourself and your family by observing some precautions and following a few simple rules.

  • Do not touch or pick up wild animals or strays, even baby animals.
  • Do not feed wildlife or make them into pets.
  • Vaccinate all family pets and keep rabies shots up-to-date.
  • Report unknown or strangely behaving animals to your town's animal control officer. If the animal is wild, contact your game warden.
  • Do not feed wild animals, use "clean design" bird feeders.
  • Keep garbage, trash and recyclables in containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Raccoon-proof your compost.
  • Feed pets inside the house.
  • Keep pets indoors at night. If they are out during the day, keep them on a leash or in a closed space. Pets that roam free are more likely to get rabies.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling a pet that has been involved with a wild or stray animal.

For Sporting Dog Owners, Hunters, Fur Trappers & Buyers, Problem Animal Control Agents, Taxidermists

  • Wear rubber gloves and skinning apron while skinning or handling animals.
  • Consult a physician about receiving pre-exposure vaccination.
  • Clean and disinfect knives, cutting boards, traps and other equipment with a solution of 1 part household bleach and 20 parts water (5% solution).
  • Capture or kill for testing any animal that has bitten or scratched your dog. Do this without risking animal bites or scratches. Do not freeze the animal or its head.
  • Do not feed suspected sick or diseased wild animals to your pets.
  • Do not prepare meat with equipment used for skinning, preparing hides, heads or antlers.
  • Meat near wounds should be trimmed and discarded.
  • Cook meat thoroughly--heat destroys the virus.

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