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People urged not to handle wildlife

In Michigan, most rabies cases occur during the summer months. So officials from the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Community Health (MDCH) and Natural Resources (DNR) are urging residents to protect themselves and their animals against the disease. Rabies is a viral disease that can infect mammals. It causes inflammation of the brain and it is always fatal because once symptoms begin there is no treatment.

"Never handle wild animals," said Dr. Dean Sienko, MDCH interim chief medical executive. "It's also important to teach children to never touch unfamiliar wild or unfamiliar domestic animals."

Any mammal is capable of being infected with rabies. Rodents rarely test positive for rabies, however recently a woodchuck (a larger member of the rodent family) bit a person in Oakland County and tested positive for rabies. This is the first time rabies has been found in a woodchuck in Michigan. The bite victim received post exposure treatment for rabies and is doing well. Further testing at the MDCH lab identified the rabies type as a skunk strain.

Several species of wild animals serve as reservoirs for the rabies virus in the U.S. For example, bats throughout Michigan can transmit rabies and counties in southeast Michigan and the Thumb area have displayed a strain of rabies associated with skunks.

"Any unprovoked wild mammal that has bitten a human should be euphanized and submitted for rabies testing," said Dr. Steve Schmitt, DNR state wildlife veterinarian. "Save bats for testing if there is even the slightest question of exposure, especially if the bat was found in a sleeping area."

It's also important that residents take steps to prevent rabies in their livestock and pets.

"Rabies is out there and owners need to vaccinate their livestock and pets — including horses — and avoid contact with wild animals," said Dr. Steve Halstead, MDARD state veterinarian. "Skunk strain rabies can infect domestic pets and livestock following fights or other contact."

Rabies is a virus that infects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. It is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal, or if saliva from an infected animal gets onto a mucous membrane such as the eyes, nose, or mouth or into a break in the skin.

Rabies is fatal if proper treatment is not received. Preventive treatment is given to people who are exposed to a potentially rabid animal. Treatment is not necessary if an animal tests negative for rabies.

Michigan citizens are encouraged to take the following precautions.

  • Seek medical care if you are bitten by a wild animal. If possible, collect the animal and consult with local health authorities to determine if rabies testing is necessary.
  • If you awaken to a bat in a room where you have been sleeping, seek medical attention. Secure the bat and consult with local public health officials about the need for rabies testing. If the animal tests negative, then rabies post exposure treatment can be avoided.
  • Michigan residents should be proactive and have their pets and livestock vaccinated against rabies. By working with their veterinarians, pet owners can take significant steps toward providing a safe and healthy environment for their families and animals.

Visit Michigan's Emerging Disease web site at www.michigan.gov/rabies for information about rabies in Michigan.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

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