Montana DPHHS Officials Warn About Rabies This Summer
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Public health officials are warning Montanans that rabies remains a threat as the summer deepens throughout the state and more people are outside and exposed to animals and livestock.
KGVO News spoke to Jessica Lopeman, Communicable Disease Nurse Consultant with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services about rabies.
Rabies is a Very Dangerous Disease and if Untreated can be Fatal
“Rabies is an illness that is 100 percent fatal,” began Lopeman “Typically, we get 15 or so animals that test positive in the state of Montana each year. And it's a risk to the public when the public interacts with animals because we don't always know that an animal has rabies, really no one was able to test it, so it's important to avoid interactions with animals that could transmit rabies.”
Devon Cozart, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist with DPHHS said she and Lopeman are not veterinarians but still had important advice about how to spot an animal with rabies.
Read Below to Spot Signs that an Animal has Rabies
“We're not veterinarians, so we can't speak entirely to that point. But what we do like to say is that look for abnormal behavior,” said Cozart. “So if you have an animal that maybe isn't walking right or spinning in circles; if you have an animal that is out at a time of day that it isn't normally out. For example, Raccoons in the middle of the day might be very unusual for your area, or any animal that's acting strangely is going to be your best reference point for whether the animal might have rabies.”
Lopeman emphasized the fact that rabies is a viral disease and described how the exposure will affect a person who has been exposed and not treated.
“Rabies is a viral illness, so it’s a virus,” she said. “What happens when a person gets bit by an animal with rabies, is that the virus goes into the muscle tissue where it was bit and then into the nervous system. It moves up your spinal cord and moves to the brain where it replicates and goes into your saliva to expose another person, but ultimately it will kill you.”
Here in the U.S. there are Few Rabies Deaths due to Excellent Medical Care
Cozart said there are many deaths from rabies throughout the world, with the exception of the U.S. where effective treatments are readily available.
“In all of history, we only have one or two documented cases where someone has survived rabies,” she said. “In the U.S., we have very few rabies deaths because we have vaccinations that we recommend after exposures, but worldwide there's a very high number of deaths due to rabies every year.”
In Montana, the last two rabies deaths known occurred in 1996 and 1997. Both of these individuals’ deaths were related to bat exposure. Most human rabies deaths occur outside the U.S.