Rabies is a viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, and ultimately the brain, causing death.
In Mississippi bats are the primary reservoir for the rabies virus. Bats with rabies continue to be identified in the state and, while human cases of rabies are rare in Mississippi, bats are the primary wild animal responsible for transmitting the disease to humans. This is why any contact with a bat whether a bite is identified or not, puts an individual at risk for rabies infection. In 2013 1.84% of the bats tested for rabies in Mississippi were positive compared to the national percentage of 5.87% positive of all bats tested.
Any mammal can be infected with rabies; however, like human rabies, land animal rabies is rare in Mississippi. Since 1961 only a single case of land animal rabies (a feral cat in 2015) has been identified in our state. In the United States raccoons, skunks, and foxes are the most commonly identified land animals with rabies. Rabies is not typically seen in rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, guinea pigs, hamsters, or rabbits. Birds, turtles, lizards, fish and insects do not contract or carry rabies.
Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal. Symptoms include convulsions, paralysis, and finally death. If you are bitten or exposed to an animal that carries rabies, early treatment before symptoms appear is important.
- Do not handle or touch live or dead feral animals, or wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and coyotes that can carry rabies.
- If you see an animal with unusual or aggressive behavior, stay away and contact your local Animal Control officials.
- Vaccinate animals when your dog or cat has reached 3 months of age, one year later, and every three years thereafter (using a vaccine approved with 3 year immunity), as required by state law.
Tips to Prevent Rabies
- Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies as required by law.
- Keep dogs and cats under control. Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies.
- Leave stray or unknown dogs and cats alone. Keep pets away from strays, too.
- Leave wild animals alone. Do not keep wild animals as pets.
- Make your property unattractive to wild animals. Cap chimneys and seal off any openings in attics, under porches and in basements. Feed your pets indoors and keep trash cans tightly closed.
If You are Bitten, Scratched, or Have Contact with an Animal
- Obtain the owner’s name, address, and telephone number if possible.
- Immediately wash the wound thoroughly, cleaning and flushing with plenty of soap and water for several minutes.
- Get prompt medical attention. Call your family doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
- You may call the health department (at 601-576-7725 or after hours at 601-576-7400) with questions or to get information about having the animal tested for rabies.
Mississippi state law requires the rabies vaccination to be given by a licensed veterinarian to all dog and cats over three months of age, again at one year of age, and at least every three years thereafter. Read the summary here