Little Rock, Ark. – The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has reported 27 rabies cases in animals so far this year; 15 were skunks, 11 were bats, and one was a dog. Rabies is a deadly virus that affects the brain and nerves in humans and other mammals. Today, which is World Rabies Day, ADH is reminding Arkansans to know the signs of rabies in animals and what to do if they are bitten by an animal.

Rabies can be contracted through a bite or saliva from an infected animal. In Arkansas, the animals that most often carry rabies are skunks and bats, but any mammal can become infected by one of these species. Animals do not have to be aggressive or behaving erratically to have rabies. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior can be early signs of rabies. 

Report abnormal animal behavior to animal control or law enforcement. If it can be done safely, capture or confine the animal, or identify it before it runs away. Do not try to pick the animal up. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment. A potential rabies exposure should never be taken lightly. If untreated, rabies is fatal. 

The human rabies vaccine, administered after a possible exposure, is highly effective at preventing the progression to rabies disease. However, once an infected person develops symptoms of rabies there is no effective treatment, and the infected person will most likely die. Timely reporting of animal bites allows public health experts to offer recommendations on the need for rabies vaccination. 

Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the nearest ADH Local Health Unit. A listing of units can be found at www.healthy.arkansas.gov. For questions about rabies or animal bites, email the ADH Zoonotic Disease Section at adh.zoonotic@arkansas.gov, or call 501-280-4136.

FAQs about Rabies and Animal Bites

How can you protect yourself from rabies?

Be sure dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

Keep family pets indoors at night.

If you wake to a bat in the room you may need to be treated if the bat cannot be tested.

Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter. The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them.

Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals.

Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well. 

What steps should be followed after an animal bite? 

Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

Make an appointment with a healthcare professional or go to the emergency department if necessary to have your bite scratch assessed for appropriate treatment.

Report the bite to local law enforcement or your local health unit.

If the affected animal is a pet, ADH or your vet will discuss quarantine options with you, which is a period of time an animal must be removed from contact with people and observed.  

How do you submit an animal for rabies testing?

Wear protective gear and use care when handling animals to ensure no additional exposures occur. Precautions must be taken to avoid direct contact with saliva or other fluid, in particular. Wear fluid-proof gloves, and eye and mouth protection to prevent splashes into the face. 

The ADH Public Health Lab cannot test live animals for rabies. If you plan to submit the animal for testing, do not shoot the animal in the head, if at all possible.

ADH Public Health Lab may not be able to test the animal if it is shot in the head since three specific parts of the brain are needed for the test/

Local public health and the ADH Public Health Lab cannot remove heads; contact a veterinarian, trained animal control officer, or the Arkansas Livestock & Poultry Commission Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for assistance.

If the animal was immediately killed following the biting incident, do not leave the animal outside to decompose.

ADH Public Health Lab will not be able to test the brain if it is decomposing.

Keep the animal carcass chilled while awaiting further instructions on submitting for testing. 

What about bats?

Bats that are on the ground, unable to fly, or active during the day are more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled. If you find yourself in close proximity to a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit or destroy it and do not try and remove it from your home. If a bat is found in the same room as a sleeping person, ill or elderly adult, unattended child or in the proximity of an unattended pet, contact the ADH for consultation. A bat bite or scratch may not be seen or even felt by the injured person due to the small size of its teeth and claws.

Call your local animal control office or Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

Call your healthcare provider or local public health department immediately to report the exposure and determine if preventive treatment is needed.

If the bat is available for testing and test results are negative, preventive treatment is not needed.