Rabies is often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. It affects the central nervous system of mammals, including humans, and can be fatal.
In Northern Kentucky, there are approximately 650-700 animal bites each year, including dog, cat, ferret, bat, raccoon and horse bites. While most of these bites do not result in the spread of illness, rabies can be a concern.
If you have been bitten by an animal
If you have been bitten, scratched or exposed to an animal’s saliva:
- Wash the wound right away with soap and water for 10 minutes.
- Call your health care provider or go to a hospital emergency room depending on the severity of the wound. If you seek medical care, the health care provider treating your injury is required to report the bite to the Health Department.
- Get a description of the animal that bit or scratched you or, if possible, confine the animal so it can be quarantined or tested.
- Contact the local animal control officer for assistance if it is a stray or wild animal.
- If you did not seek medical care, contact the Health Department at 859-341-4151 as soon as possible so steps can be taken to quarantine the animal or submit it for testing if warranted. You will need to provide information about where the bite occurred, the owner’s name and address (if applicable), the type of animal and the victim’s name and address.
If a person was bitten by a domestic animal, the Health Department will work with the owner to enforce a quarantine period, generally 10 days. Animals may be quarantined at home or at local shelters.
A health inspector will observe the animal at the beginning and end of the quarantine period.
If the animal appears healthy at the end of the 10 days, it will be released. If the animal is not current on its vaccinations, a Notice to Vaccinate may be issued.
If a person was bitten by a wild animal, efforts will be made to locate the animal and, if it is a species of concern, the animal will be submitted for rabies testing.
If a bat has been located in your home, it is always best to have a professional catch the bat. If you are capturing the bat, take the following safety precautions:
- Wear heavy leather gloves. Do not handle the bat with bare hands.
- Place a small box or coffee can over the bat. Slide a piece of cardboard under the box and tape securely.
- Contact your veterinarian or local animal control for information on euthanizing the animal so that the head and brain are not damaged, which will allow for rabies testing.
- If the bat is found dead, keep it in a zip lock bag or plastic container and refrigerated or kept cold in a cooler until it can be prepared for testing.
- Contact the Health Department at 859-341-4151 for information about submitting the bat for testing, and additional information about exposures.
A vaccination is available to people who have already been exposed to an animal that tested positive for rabies or is unavailable for testing, and it is nearly 100 percent successful in preventing rabies in humans when given in a timely manner. Treatment generally involves an antibody shot and the first rabies shot, followed by a series of three additional shots over a period of two weeks. Rabies vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm like a flu shot – they are not given in the stomach.
In Northern Kentucky, the Health Department collaborates with St. Elizabeth Healthcare to provide rabies vaccinations.
Pre-exposure vaccination is available for people who are at high risk for a rabies exposure such as veterinarians, laboratory personnel and animal control personnel.
The Health Department recommends the following actions to prevent the spread of rabies:
- Make sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations. This is required by Kentucky law.
- Never handle bats, and teach your children to stay away from them as well.
- Either on your home, or through a pest control professional, evaluate your home to ensure that there are no openings for bats to enter. This includes under roof eaves, attic vents, chimneys, window screens and gaps in the siding. Any opening not properly covered or sealed can allow bats entry into a home. If openings are found, they can be corrected by screening, netting, sealing gaps or other appropriate means depending on the material.
- If bats are believed to be roosting somewhere in the structure, have a professional determine the extent of the problem and address the removal of the bat colony. This generally needs to be done during warm months before the bats hibernate for the winter. However, bats are a protected species in Kentucky, and if immature bats are roosting in the building, removal or exclusion steps may not be possible until all bats are old enough to fly. This may be as late as August. Consult with a professional.
- Consider what time of day you see the bat. Bats are nocturnal animals, so those found during daylight hours or otherwise seeming to have trouble flying have a higher likelihood of being infected with rabies.
If you feel that you may have contracted rabies or have come in contact with an animal that may be infected with rabies, contact your health care provider and the Health Department at 859-341-4151.