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Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous
system. The rabies virus is transmitted from infected mammals to humans
(typically via a bite) and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.
Human rabies is now rare in the United States, but still
occurs frequently in many developing nations. The last four cases of
human rabies in Wisconsin occurred in 1959, 2000, 2004 and 2010. All
four Wisconsin cases acquired the disease from infected bats.
Animal bite management and potential rabies exposures
One of the most effective ways to prevent rabies
infection is immediate thorough cleansing of the animal bite or scratch
wounds with liberal amounts of soap and water for 10-15 minutes.
It is important for bite victims
to notify their local health department (or local law enforcement when
public health staff are unavailable) whenever a bite occurs to ensure
that the biting animal is appropriately and legally observed or tested
for rabies. It is also vital not to release or destroy a biting animal
until a public health official or an animal control officer is
consulted. The victim's physician should also be notified promptly.
In most instances, observation or
testing of the biting animal will rule out the possibility of rabies and
will therefore eliminate any need for the bite victim to undergo the
series of injections. If circumstances of the exposure warrant it,
however, a physician will administer preventive medications (called
post-exposure prophylaxis) to the bite victim. This preventive treatment
consists of an injection of rabies immune globulin immediately, and four
doses of the rabies vaccine given over the course of 14 days. The
vaccine is injected in the arm, similar to a tetanus shot. Click here
for details on the preventive
Exposures to bats are worrisome because some people with very minor
exposures to bats have contracted rabies. If there has been any
possibility of physical contact with a bat, even without a known bite,
the animal should be safely captured and held until a public health
official or a physician can be consulted.
It should be noted that domestic animals which are
exposed to rabies constitute a very real threat to their human owners,
particularly if the animal is unvaccinated.
Exposure to rabies may be minimized by the following measures:
- Eliminate stray dogs and cats and enforce leash laws.
- Vaccinate pet dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock against rabies.
- Stay away from all wild animals, especially those acting
- Teach your children not to approach any unfamiliar animals.
- Do not keep exotic or wild animals as pets, regardless of how
young or cute they are.
- Exclude bats from living quarters by keeping screens in good
repair and by closing any small openings that could allow them to
- Persons traveling to developing countries in which rabies is
highly prevalent, or persons who are at ongoing risk of possible
rabies exposure (e.g., veterinarians, animal control officers)
should ask their doctor about receiving the PRE-exposure rabies
Members of the public should contact their local
public health department (county or municipal) and their health care
provider regarding animal bite/rabies concerns. During off-hours,
animal bite calls may be handled by local law enforcement personnel.
The Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section of the
Wisconsin Division of Public Health offers consultation on
situations involving potential human exposures to rabies.
Questions regarding the submission of specimens for
rabies testing to the State Laboratory of Hygiene, or about the
reporting of test results can be addressed to the SLH Rabies Unit at
608-262-7323 during regular office hours.
To consult about potential animal exposures
to rabies, callers can contact Dr. Yvonne Bellay at the Wisconsin
Division of Animal Health at 608-224-4888. It should be noted that
domestic animals which are exposed to rabies constitute a very real
threat to their human owners. Accordingly, Wisconsin statute 95.21
also addresses animal exposures to rabies and defines circumstances
under which such an animal is subject to quarantine.
Animal bite management from the perspective of
Wisconsin Rabies Prevention flowchart (Rabies
Information for health professionals
This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category I
Report IMMEDIATELY by TELEPHONE to
the patient's local public health department upon identification of a
confirmed or suspected case. The local health department shall then notify the
state epidemiologist immediately of any confirmed or suspected cases. Submit a
case report within 24 hours submit a case report electronically through the Wisconsin Electronic
Surveillance System (WEDSS), by mail or fax using an
Acute and Communicable Disease
or by other means.
Information on communicable disease reporting
Animal Bites |
Diagnostic testing | Rabies in Wisconsin