Those of you familiar with this blog know that there has been for the past couple years a random collection of posts called The Ask Dr. Dina Series, focusing on the medical mayhem writers get up to. Regular reader and all around awesome (evil, of course!) Real Live Animal Doctor Jes Adams of Wayward Creatures Relief Agency has kindly given us a post on one of the things that mostly affects animals but can also affect humans – rabies. (Chuck Wendig recently had an encounter with a rabid racoon and there was angst and woe involved there, so this post is timely as fuck.)
Without further ado, I give you Dr. Jes:
OK. There’s been a lot of confusion about rabies lately, so here’s your primer. First off, Old Yeller was LIES, ALL LIES. Forget whatever you think you learned from this movie (I haven’t read the book, but am given to understand that the ending was rather differently handled).
Rabies virus travels from bite to brain through the nerves. It does NOT enter the bloodstream effectively. Virus is shed in saliva, and contained in nerve tissue. This means that from being bitten to showing clinical signs can be OVER SIX MONTHS if bite is on the foot or tail. The further from the head, and the larger the animal, the longer the delay before signs.
You will not get rabies from blood exposure, but can get it from being bitten, from being licked on an open wound or chapped/broken skin, or from getting saliva in your mouth. Rabies is not durable in the environment and will not survive being dried out, so old dead animals are not a concern (but are still icky so don’t put them in your mouth or “pretend” bite yourself with them because why the crap would you do that?).
From the time an animal becomes contagious and then begins showing signs (behavior changes, neurologic deficits, excess salivation) to death from virus is LESS THAN FOURTEEN DAYS.
Quarantines are thus drastically different depending on what you are worried about.
1: If we are quarantining an animal which bit someone: the quarantine is to establish that the animal was not shedding rabies virus when the bite occurred. Quarantine is 10 days, because animal should be severely neurologic or dead by the end of that time if it was clinically rabid at the time of the bite. At the end of quarantine, the animal can be euthanized, or vaccinated and released to owner.
2: If we are isolating an animal which was bitten by something: the animal should be vaccinated immediately (at start of isolation) and isolated for at least 45-60 days – this is usually done at home and not in clinic due to duration of isolation. Animal should be kept inside or behind a double fence, and handled only by 1 or 2 designated people, with no exposure to anyone else. If no neurologic signs or behavior changes are seen by the end of this time, it probably was not infected with rabies when bitten, but there have been cases of animals breaking with rabies after being kenneled for more than 6 months. If neurologic signs develop, anybody who’s been in contact with the pet “gets” to be vaccinated, and the pet is euthanized.
So there you have it, folks. How rabies actually works! Thank you, Doctor Jes, for your awesome and your information.
There’s another part to Doctor Jes’ eviltry, which I’ll share with you next time. It’s about poisons. Stay tuned!