Rabies is a disease of the nervous system caused by a virus that affects humans and animals. This virus infects the brain and ultimately causes death.
Rabies is a disease of warm-blooded animals, most commonly foxes, skunks, bats, cattle, horses, dogs and cats.
In Saskatchewan, rabies is most often diagnosed in skunks.
How is Rabies spread?
Exposure to rabies is considered to have occurred when:
An infected animal's teeth penetrate the skin as in a bite;
The saliva or other potentially infectious material (brain tissue) of an infected animal comes into contact with scratches, abrasions, cuts or mucous membranes (mouth, nose or eyes) of an individual or animal.
What are the symptoms of Rabies?
It can be weeks or months before rabies symptoms begin to show. This can vary depending on the type of species and location of wound.
The first symptoms of rabies are similar to any flu-like illness; an individual may experience fever, headache, or general discomfort.
Within days, the symptoms can progress to anxiety, confusion, abnormal behaviour, hydrophobia, and hallucinations.
Once symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal. Therefore, any person who has been exposed (bitten, scratched, or as above) to a potentially rabid animal should see a physician as soon as possible.
How can you tell if an animal has Rabies?
Animal symptoms may not be easily recognized. However, you should be suspicious if an animal:
Behaves in either an unusually sluggish or aggressive manner;
Attacks a person or another animal without reason;
Appears to have difficulty swallowing (causing drooling or foaming at the mouth);
Has a decreased appetite or refuses to eat;
Becomes partly or entirely paralyzed meaning it may have difficulty moving all or parts of its body.
How can I protect myself and my animals from Rabies?
Have your pets vaccinated regularly.
Keep your pets on a leash.
Use caution when approaching animals that don't know you, even when they are accompanied by their owner.
Don't go near or touch stray animals.
Don't leave garbage outside - it attracts stray and wild animals.
Do not handle sick or dead wild animals without using protective gloves.
Identify and cover locations (e.g. chimneys, windows, etc) where wildlife, including bats, could enter your home.
Call a veterinarian if you notice unusual animal behaviour or if your pet is bitten by a wild animal.
What should I do if I suspect someone has been exposed to Rabies?
Flush the wound immediately with copious amounts of soap and water.
The exposed person should see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will consult with a public health official to determine if preventative treatment is necessary.
If possible, owners should confine their pet and observe it for changes in behaviour.
If it is a wild animal, contact a conservation officer for assistance.