Our approach to rabies and its prevention

Rabies is a fatal viral zoonosis and serious public health problem.

Rabies infection is caused by the rabies virus in humans and animals. The disease is an acute, progressive encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Mammals are infected through animal bites which spread the disease through saliva. Once the virus has penetrated the skin of the bitten animal it makes its way to the nearest nerve. The rabies virus then makes its way to the central nervous system, ultimately spreading disease to the brain resulting in death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.

Wild animals account for the majority of rabies cases with bats being the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species. Other rabies cases have been reported in raccoons, skunk, and foxes. In Oregon, the rabies virus seems to be mostly in bats, coyotes and foxes. Cats are the most likely to be diagnosed with rabies in domestic animals, possibly due to the hunting of rabid bats. As all mammals are susceptible including horses, cows, and other livestock have been reported as well.

Control and Prevention

All mammals should be vaccinated against rabies and revaccinated in accordance with veterinary recommendations. Dogs and cats should be vaccinated in accordance with local law requirements with a vaccine licensed for those species. All horses and other livestock should be vaccinated against rabies. Animals with frequent contact with humans (e.g., in petting zoos, fairs, and other public exhibitions) should be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccination should never be overdue.

NOTE: Wild animals and wild animal hybrids should not be kept as pets. No parenteral rabies vaccines are licensed for use in wild animals or wild animal hybrids.

Deceased wild animals that have had contact with humans and pets or livestock should be tested for rabies when suitable. The specimen should NEVER be handled with bare hands or lightly gloved hands, instead use heavy leather gloves or implements. Prompt laboratory testing is essential for submitted specimens and should be stored and shipped under refrigeration without delay. In Oregon, bats that are not available or suitable for testing should be regarded as rabid.

Local Data

Clatsop County has had a few reports of rabid bats: two bats in 1997, one bat in 2000, and one bat in 2004, nothing since. There is limited information on the risk of rabies in bats, as not very many are being sent to the laboratory. Because of this, it is even more important to have your animals vaccinated on a regular basis and never past the revaccination date.

At Astoria Animal Hospital, we are prepared to send bats and the brains to Oregon State University. There will be fees associated including: preparation fees, shipping and handling, and the lab analysis as well. We are happy to present a cost estimate to you.