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It’s Conservation Field Day time for sixth graders

Posted 19 May 2014 at 12:00 am

One activity urges public to take precautions against rabies

By Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Public Health Educator for the Orleans County Health Department

This is a big week for Orleans County 6th graders. Today and Wednesday all 6th graders will have the opportunity to participate in the Annual Orleans County Conservation Field Days at the 4-H Fairgrounds. The event is organized by the 4-H Youth Development Program of Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

This year the Orleans County Health Department will be playing an interactive game called Rabies Alert. Rabies Alert gives the students an opportunity to take on different “identities” such as wild and stray animals, domesticated (pets) animals and people who are possible pet owners.  After a brief discussion about what rabies is, the students shake hands with each other for a minute and then the fun begins.

Once the students have had contact with each other they are then broken into 4 separate categories – wild animals, stray animals, domesticated animals and people.  Health Department educator then walks the students through a mock investigation of a potential rabies exposure.

Each step of the “investigation” is explained and the end result encourages students to make sure their pets are safe and vaccinated against rabies regularly and to stay away from all wildlife as we can never be sure if animals have rabies.

So what is rabies and how do you protect yourself, family and pets?  Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the nervous system and all mammals, including humans, can get it.  Rabies may or may not show clear symptoms such as staggering, dragging of hind legs, excessive drooling of saliva as the animal or person cannot swallow, fear of water, nocturnal (night active) animals out in the daylight, no fear, the animal may appear tame or have excessive rage and will attack anything including known predators.

Rabies is spread through saliva and nerve tissue of infected animals and is most often seen in skunks, bats, raccoons and foxes. Because bats have very small, sharp teeth, teeth marks may not be noticed or felt, especially if someone was sleeping, is an unattended child or is disabled. Therefore it is important NOT to release bats found in homes that may have had contact with a human or pet. Contact the health department for instructions on how to safely contain a bat.

If there is a possible exposure to rabies, the animal must be tested. The brain tissue of the animal must not be damaged.

If the animal cannot be tested and a potential exposure has occurred, the individuals and domesticated animals are evaluated to determine the risk of infection. Exposed individuals may have to receive a series of shots and the animals will either receive a booster (if vaccinations are current) and period of confinement or, if the animal doesn’t have current vaccinations, it may have to be euthanized (put down).

It is important to report a possible exposure as soon as possible to your doctor and your local County Health Department to determine what steps to take. Immediately wash bites and scratches with soap and water to prevent the virus from spreading to the nervous system and call your doctor. To report bites or scratches from potentially infected animals, call your local County Health Department or after hours, your non-emergency Sheriff’s Department number.

The majority of exposures received at the Health Department are due to carelessness. To protect yourself and family members avoid touching ALL wildlife and stray animals, including baby animals, and assume they could be infected with rabies.

If your pet has had contact with a wild or stray animal do not touch your pet as it may have saliva on its fur. Use rubber gloves and confine your animal to avoid contact with its fur.

Protect your animals and home by not leaving food and water where wild animals and strays can have a free lunch.  Fix all openings in your home and outbuildings and tightly cover garbage cans so animals can’t get access. Make sure your animals have current rabies vaccine. Do not allow your animals to roam, as they are at increased risk of exposure.