Frequently Asked Questions About Rabies

  • What is rabies?
    Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system that causes a fatal inflammation of the brain and in some cases the spinal cord. All mammals may become infected with rabies. However, the public health significance of each species varies markedly. In Missouri, skunks and bats are the two wild animals that have been determined to be the primary reservoir species of the disease. Therefore, any significant direct contact by citizens, their pets, or livestock with wild animals, especially skunks or bats, should be promptly reported. Rabies is almost always fatal to animals and people once the disease appears. Immediate treatment by a doctor after exposure, possibly including a post-exposure rabies vaccination, will prevent development of the disease. Because it can be fatal, rabies should be considered extremely dangerous.

  • How is rabies transmitted?
    The rabies virus must enter the animal to cause disease. It cannot penetrate intact skin. Bite wounds are the primary method of entry into both humans and animals. Animal bites to humans are investigated because of the possibility that the bite victim was exposed and could become infected with the rabies virus. Any direct contact with bat is a concern and should be reported immediately. However, it should be noted that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE BITTEN TO CONTRACT RABIES.The virus is shed through saliva. If infected saliva gets on a cut or scratch or into mucous membranes such as the nose or eyes, you could become infected.

  • What should I do if I, or someone I know, is bitten?

    • Promptly clean the area of the wound with soap and water. 
    • Immediately contact your physician and either the Dunklin County Health Department and your local animal control services so that necessary and timely medical care can be provided to the bite victim and investigation can promptly begin.
    • Keep everyone away from the animal including pets.
    • Check for record of latest tetanus shot.
  • Why should significant scratches be reported?
    Man animals, especially cats and dogs, lick their paws which can put potentialy infected saliva in direct contact with their nails or claws so that if the skin is broken allows the rabies virus to enter.

  • Why are animals quarantined?
    If the animal that bit a human is a dog or another animal likely to be infected with the rabies virus, it is quarantined and observed. This allows us to determine if the victim could have been exposed to the rabies virus. In cases where a high-risk animal cannot be located, the nature of the contact and species of the animal must be evaluated to allow the physician to determine the need for post exposure rabies treatment. It is therefore very important for us to find the biting animal.

  • If my pet is current on vaccinations will it be quarantined?
    Yes. By observing the animal for 10 days it can be determined whether or not the pet was shedding the rabies virus in its saliva at the time of the bite or scratch.

  • Will my pet be taken away from me?
    Not necessarily. Home confinement is allowed if certain conditions are met.

  • Will my friends be in trouble if I report that their pet bit or scratched me?
    No, and you will be ensuring the safety of yourself and others that may come in contact with the animal by knowing that was proven to be clear and/or properly vaccinated.

  • What if I don't know who owns the animal?
    You can help us find the animal by providing our investigator as much information as possible. Besides the owner's name and address, other information that can help us includes:

    • the name of the animal
    • the location where the bite occurred
    • where the animal was last seen
    • others that may know or could have seen the animal
    • description of the animal (color, sex, size, markings)
    • the auto license plate number and vehicle description if it was left in a vehicle
    • any other information that can help the investigator locate the animal
For more information visit the State of Missouri Department of Health website.

Contact Dunklin County Health Department

Walk-ins are welcome.