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It's peak season for rabies in Michigan

Posted: 1:16 PM, Aug 10, 2016
Updated: 2016-08-10 17:16:01Z

Across Michigan, 21 animals have been confirmed as being infected with rabies. State organizations are urging families to to protect themselves, and their animals, from the virus.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of an infected animal, and once symptoms begin, there is no treatment for rabies, states a release the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Health and Human Services, and Natural Resources.

The disease is fatal to humans if not properly treated, and preventative treatment is given to people who are exposed to a potentially rabid animal.

Several wild animals serve as rabies carriers, including bats and skunks. Bats are the species most frequently found with rabies in the state.

“If you discover a bat in your home, carefully confine the bat and get in touch with your local health department to determine if you could have been exposed to rabies,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive. "Save any bat for testing if there is even the slightest question of exposure, especially if the bat was found in a sleeping area." 

As of August 8, 21 animals were confirmed with the disease. There were four skunks and 17 bats found in Alpena, Antrim, Calhoun, Eaton, Genesee, Ingham, Jackson, Kent, Kalamazoo, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oakland, Saginaw and Washtenaw counties, according to the release.

“It is never a good idea to handle wild animals,” said Dr. Dan O’Brien, acting DNR state wildlife veterinarian. “It’s also important to teach children never to touch wild animals, no matter how cute or tame they seem.

“Normally, wild animals have a healthy fear of humans. If they aren’t acting afraid, it’s often because they’re sick. If someone has been handling a wild animal or is bitten by a wild animal, that animal may have to be euthanized in order to be tested for rabies.”

If bitten by an animal, the person should seek medical care immediately, as mammals can also be infected with rabies. If it is possible, collect the animal to consult with local health authorities to determine if rabies testing or an animal confinement period is necessary.

If  pet or livestock owners suspect their animals may have had contact with a potentially rabid animal or has been bitten, they need to contact their veterinarian for the appropriate course of action, even if the pet or livestock animal is currently vaccinated against rabies, states the release.

“Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and select livestock,” said Dr. James Averill, MDARD state veterinarian. “It’s crucial animal owners work with their veterinarian to ensure their animals are protected from rabies."