By Andrew Solomon

shutterstock_142870810This is part 2 of a 4 part series highlighting “summer germs” this week (June 24 – June 28).

Rabies is a germ (virus) that attacks the brain and nervous system. It is spread through the saliva of an infected animal when it bites or scratches a person or another animal. In the United States, rabies is usually found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and woodchucks. However, domestic animals like dogs, cats, and ferrets can also get rabies.

During the summer, wild animals are more active as they search for food or take care of their babies.  As we spend more time outside, we are more likely to come in contact with wildlife or a pet we do not know.  To keep yourself safe, it is best to avoid any unfamiliar animals and always be cautious when meeting a strange dog or cat. Even a pet you know may bite or scratch if they are scared or surprised. If you or a loved one (including a pet) is bitten or scratched this summer, be sure to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your healthcare provider or veterinarian immediately. To report a problem animal in your neighborhood, contact Boston Animal Control at (617) 635-5348.

Follow these steps to prevent rabies:

  • Vaccinate your pets for rabies. Dogs, cats, and ferrets all need to be vaccinated by a veterinarian regularly.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets – it is illegal and dangerous.
  • Do not feed or handle wild animals. Teach children that although baby raccoons or skunks may look cute and friendly, they can be very dangerous.
  • Do not feed or touch stray animals and avoid all sick or strange-acting animals.
  • Teach children not to approach unfamiliar animals and to be cautious not to scare or surprise pets they do know.
  • If you must dispose of a dead animal, never use your bare hands. Pick up dead animals using gloves or a shovel.
  • Cover and secure your garbage cans and never leave pet food outside.
  • Ensure all openings in your home are closed and secure to prevent wildlife from moving in.

Contact your healthcare provider or the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-5611 or with additional questions on rabies or other “summer germs”. If you need help locating a healthcare provider or getting health insurance, contact the Mayor’s Health Line at (617) 534-5050.

Check back on Wednesday and Friday to learn about mosquito-borne diseases and food poisoning!

Andrew Solomon is a project manager with the Public Health Commission, supporting the Infectious Disease Bureau in Education & Outreach.