Recently, a rabid woodchuck in Waterford, Conn., scratched someone.
Recently, a rabid woodchuck in Waterford, Conn., scratched someone. While it is fairly unusual for a woodchuck to have rabies, there have been 60 reported cases of rabies in woodchucks in Connecticut since 1991.
From 1991 through June 2008, Connecticut has had more than 6,000 reported cases of rabies. There were 4,593 raccoons (the obvious majority), 1,177 skunks and the balance was made up of many other animals, including bobcats, horses, cows and even goats.
Rabies is a virus that is usually transferred through bites, although if the animal or person has a scratch or wound, the saliva of the infected animal can enter the blood stream or mucous membranes, such as eyes, nose or mouth. Rabies can be transferred from the mother to her young via breast milk, and also through urine.
Incubation takes several years or a few days, but eventually, the virus will travel to the brain and then symptoms become evident.
If you find a dead animal where the cause of death is not obvious, such as by car or gunshot, handle it carefully — using a shovel to place the animal in a plastic bag — and call the appropriate authorities. The animal should be tested.
A rabid animal’s behavior will change. It will become very quiet, drink more water, lose its appetite, then become very excited, disoriented and/or feverish. The animal will become irritable, tremble, lack fear and perhaps attack humans or other animals.
Abnormal behavior in a wild animal should be cause for concern. You need to stay away from the animal and call your local Animal Control officer immediately.
You also may want to notify the Department of Agriculture and local health department. Most importantly, teach your children to leave all wild animals alone and to tell you if they have been scratched or bitten by any animal, domestic or wild. Any bite by a domestic animal should be reported to your local animal control.
The law dictates your cat or dog have a rabies vaccination starting at 4 months of age, and every three years after. There is a rabies vaccine for horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and ferrets. It is advisable to have these animals vaccinated.
If your cat goes outside or your dog runs loose (which it should never do), and you notice a scratch or wound of unknown origin on your pet, take it to your vet immediately for a rabies booster. Your vet will report it to your local health department or animal control officer. You will need to isolate your pet for 14 days.
To limit exposure to wild animals that carry rabies, provide fencing for your dog (which you should do anyway), and keep your cat indoors or have a safe enclosure for your cat to enjoy.
Wild animals are attracted to homes and yards where they smell food, so make sure to eliminate outside food sources. Keep your trash cans securely covered, and remove the empty food bowls at night, if you feed your dog outside, or if you have feral cats living in your yard.
If you work with animals, or are in animal rescue or wildlife rehabilitation, it is advisable to have a rabies vaccination as a prophylaxis. Records indicate only one unvaccinated American in recent times has survived rabies, so this is a virus that must be taken very seriously.
At this writing, I have not had the rabies vaccinations because my insurance does not cover the shots and they are very expensive, but I very seldom work in the trenches anymore.
If you are out there, rescuing, please get a rabies vaccinations.
Rene Knapp writes Pet Talk, which appears Sundays. Reach her at email@example.com.