The Scary Truth About Rabies

The Grafton-Taylor County Health Department offers a variety of services through departments such as: Public Health, Home Health, Environmental Health, Threat Preparedness, Behavioral Health, Harm Reduction, and more.

One of our most important programs – Environmental Health, provides a series of essential services including: food safety, sewage inspections, tattoo/body piercing studio inspections, child care center inspections, school inspections, public pool inspections/sampling, and more.

Environmental Health works behind the scenes to ensure that the citizens of Taylor County remain safe and healthy whenever they leave their homes and enter the community. One of the most significant jobs of our Environmental Health team is rabies control.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of rabies by now. Whether your knowledge of the rabies virus comes from “Cujo”, “Old Yeller”, or firsthand experience, you’ll likely never forget how scary and dangerous rabies can be.

So what exactly is “rabies”? I’m glad you asked. In layman’s terms, rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and the nervous system. In medical terms, rabies is a virus that leads to acute viral encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). That sounds pretty awful if you ask me.

One of the main reasons rabies is so dangerous is because of how easily it’s spread. The rabies virus is spread through bites, scratches, and infected saliva. Rabies can infect any warm-blooded animal, but is most commonly found in raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and bats. Although we don’t hear of humans contracting rabies as much as animals, humans experience higher exposure rates than most would expect. Because humans are often exposed to unvaccinated cats, dogs, and bats, they have the greatest chance of infection.

When exposed to rabies, humans will experience symptoms including: loss of consciousness, fever, headache, anxiety, insomnia, hyper-salivation, slight/partial paralysis, difficulty swallowing, fear of water, and convulsions.

Animals experience different symptoms such as: isolating themselves, loss of fear of humans (wild animals), paralysis, abnormal facial expressions, extreme excitement/aggression, attacking objects or other animals, and frothing of the mouth.

Despite all of those symptoms, infected animals aren’t always easy to spot. In fact, it’s almost impossible to know if an animal has rabies by physical appearance only. Because of this, we recommend that you stay away from the suspected rabid animal, report the incident to the health department immediately, and seek professional medical help. Incidents can be reported to our Registered Sanitarian at (304) 265-1288.

All of that being said, you’re probably wondering how you can prevent contracting rabies. Here are a few tips: 1) avoid suspicious animals, 2) receive a pre-exposure vaccination if you are someone who may come in contact with unfamiliar animals, or if you plan to travel to certain countries, and 3) wash all animal bites (even bites from household pets) thoroughly and promptly seek medical care. Remember: the only way to avoid the deadly symptoms of rabies is to get medical attention as soon as the event occurs!

If you’d like more information about rabies or environmental health, don’t hesitate to call the office at 304-265-1288, and ask for our Registered Sanitarian, Jeff Kiger. Information regarding rabies is also available on our website at under the “Environmental Health” tab.

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