Vets look to take the bite out of rabies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

The State Public Health office has designated the week of June 1-7 as Rabies Awareness and Dog Bite Prevention Week in Alabama.

The health department is joining forces with the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to increase awareness of these problems and to provide education to encourage vaccination of cats and dogs and better control methods for dogs prone to bite.

Dog bites are being tagged the &uot;unrecognized epidemic&uot; by the state health department.

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State public health veterinarian Dr. Bill Johnston issued a press release that stated the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported that about 4.7 million cases of dog bite take place each year, but only a minute portion are reported.

&uot;They are under-reported by at least 50 percent,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;Part of the difficulty is that 24 of the 55 states and territories of the U.S. don’t require animal bites to be reported.&uot;

Johnston also points out that half of all children up to the age of 12 have been bitten by a dog. Eighty-four percent of all animal bites are received from dogs. Seventy-four percent of the bites are received by non-owners.

Johnston stated in his release that people need to be aware that they are legally liable for their dogs if they bite someone, including being charged with murder if the victim dies from the attack.

He says that the best way to avoid dog bites is to keep small children away from dogs and never leave them alone with them and to teach children how to be careful around pets and never approach strange pets.

&uot;Whatever you do, if you are approached or threatened by a dog, don’t turn and run,&uot; he said. &uot;Stay calm and slowly back away and do not look directly at the dog. Try to appear as non-threatening as possible.&uot;

As dangerous but not of epidemic proportions is the problem of rabies.

A recent case of rabies recently was reported by Montgomery news agencies in the town of Calera, where two dogs had a rabid bat in their mouths, which was consequently taken away by the dogs’ owners.

The owners and their children will have to receive rabies shots because the bat was handled without gloves.

Rabies is fatal to humans and animals, state health department official report.

Butler County public health senior environmentalist Jim Wood said that rabies activity in Butler County has been slow this year.

&uot;We haven’t had any cases confirmed this year,&uot; Wood said. &uot;Normally, we have two or three cases per year – usually in raccoons, but so far nothing other than some reports of animals acting strangely has occurred.&uot;

He said that the health department’s procedure for rabies is to send the suspected animal off to be tested when there has been exposure to pets, humans or cattle.

&uot;We normally don’t get the chance, though, because the animal either gets shot or gets away,&uot; he said.

The health official said that area residents should stay away from any animal that is acting strangely.

&uot;If you see an animal that is usually a night creature, such as a raccoon or bat, that is moving around in the day or not running away from humans, there’s a good chance that animal has rabies,&uot; Wood said. &uot;Many times they will challenge cars on the road. It’s a pretty safe bet an animal doing that is rabid.&uot;

Wood said that people should never touch an animal that could have rabies.

&uot;Rabies can be contracted through the skin or open sores, so you should avoid contact with a rabid animal at all costs,&uot; he said.

Wood said that many of the cases of animals acting strangely last year turned out to be distemper.

Butler County residents are fairly educated about rabies and know to stay away from strange-acting animals, he said.

&uot;Since a lot of our area is rural, people have grown up knowing how to deal with wild animals and how to spot an animal with rabies,&uot; Wood said. &uot;So education isn’t a big problem.&uot;

The rabies awareness program includes countywide rabies clinics to help area residents get rabies vaccinations for their pets.

Wood said the rabies and dog-bite prevention program is a great reminder to owners to have their animals vaccinated.

&uot;Since it is state law, these clinics are a wonderful opportunity for people to get the vaccinations for their pets if they haven’t done so this year,&uot; he said. &uot;Dr. William Watson is the county’s rabies officer, and he will have clinics throughout the county the week of June 1. It’s a convenient way to get the vaccinations taken care of.&uot;

For times and places where the clinics will be held, see the rabies clinic scheduled posted in the Greenville Advocate and Butler County News, or call Dr. Watson at 382-5209.