What is included in patient education about rabies prevention?

Updated: Jun 21, 2019
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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The need for adherence to local public health recommendations regarding the control and vaccination of domestic animals and the vaccination of individuals who may be exposed to rabies in their occupation cannot be stressed enough. The case of the Wisconsin survivor, who did not seek medical attention after being bitten, underscores the need for ongoing public education about preventing this almost uniformly fatal infection.

Counsel patients regarding the subjective nature of provocative behavior toward animals. Especially stress avoiding contact with unfamiliar or wild animals. Wild animals seen in areas or at times of day that seem unusual are reason to suspect rabid behavior. Wild animals that are rabid may seem unusually docile or fearless. Hypersalivation, or “foaming at the mouth,” is pathognomonic for rabies but is often absent.

Prompt, vigorous cleansing of any injury or bite from any animal is critical and may reduce the risk of rabies transmission. Provide extensive reassurance after any injury that may be related to rabies transmission. Fear of rabies is primal and is known to induce hysterical reactions that mimic the disease manifestations.

Promote educational efforts at home and at schools teaching children about safety procedures and precautions regarding pets and wild animals. Many communities have programs through camps, schools, and public libraries, as well as information through local health department Web sites. [47] Veterinarians and public health officials are excellent resources for concerns regarding animal rabies prevention. [13, 48]

In addition, the public should be advised to do the following:

  • Teach children at an early age not to handle stray animals or wildlife, especially bats found on the ground

  • Report any animals that are sick or acting strange to local public health authorities

  • Consult public health authorities if a bat is seen in the home at night, even if a bite is not suspected

  • Keep pets indoors at night and fenced in or on a leash when outdoors

  • Keep pet food and water dishes indoors

  • Have professional animal trappers remove bat colonies from homes and barns

  • Handle sick or dead animals with heavy gloves and shovels

  • Keep trash container lids tight and maintain compost piles away from dwellings

  • Wash hands with soap and water after contact with wildlife

  • If an animal scratch or bite occurs, especially if due to a bat, fox, raccoon, skunk, or unvaccinated dog or cat, (1) immediately wash the areas vigorously with soap and water and (2) immediately seek care at an emergency department. Aside from rabies, bites may become infected, and preventive care is available if sought.

For patient education information, see the Infections Center, as well as Rabies.

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