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September 28, 2012
LHSC’s emergency rooms receive approximately 4 visitors every day in the summer and 1 visitor every day in the winter to receive treatment for an animal bite. Many of these patients are concerned about rabies.
“Rabies is spread from infected animals to people by saliva. This could happen after an animal bite or scratch or by a contaminated animal’s saliva coming into contact with a cut or open wound,” says Dr. Gary Joubert, chief of emergency Medicine and Director of paediatric emergency medicine, LHSC. “If left untreated rabies is a fatal disease.”
Rabies is a slow moving virus that migrates from the point of the bite into the brain. The virus can take weeks or months to reach the brain depending on where the bite occurred.
Bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes are common rabies carriers. Animals with Rabies often act strangely. Dogs and cats, for instance, may become mean and bite or scratch for no reason. Some may become depressed and retreat to isolated places. While these behaviours may be present in a rabid animal, the reality is that it cannot be determined if an animal has rabies just by looking at it.
If bitten people should wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and call their family doctor or seek medical attention. “To treat rabies, patients can be given up to five shots over the period of 21 days,” continues Joubert. “The dosage of medication depends on a person’s body weight and the shot actively treats infection and provides passive immunity to rabies.”
The first dose of the vaccine is often administered to patients in the emergency department; subsequent doses are then administered by a patient’s family doctor or a public health professional.