Do kids still get rabies?
Tragically, most folks know that they do because of the story of the unvaccinated 6-year-old boy in Florida who died after being exposed to a rapid bat earlier this year.
Getting Exposed to Rabies
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease.
Unlike most other vaccine-preventable diseases though, unless you are at high risk for getting rabies, you don’t typically get the rabies vaccine unless you have already been exposed to rabies.
How does one get exposed to rabies?
Now that most people get their pets vaccinated against rabies, these exposures typically come from wild animals, including:
While any mammal can be susceptible to rabies, small mammals, including squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares, rarely get rabies and aren’t usually thought to be a risk for humans.
Your other pets, including dogs, cats, and ferrets, are though. They should be vaccinated against rabies. As should other domestic animals, including cows, goats, sheep, and horses.
It is also important to teach your kids to avoid wild animals. While most kids won’t go out of their way to pet a coyote, they might try to feed a racoon or skunk, and they might pick up a bat they find on the ground.
Kids should also avoid cats and dogs that they don’t know. Your kids should not just walk up and pet unfamiliar dogs and cats.
What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Rabies
Unfortunately, you won’t always know if an animal has rabies, although an animal acting strangely can be a tip off that they might have rabies.
That bat your kids found on the ground could definitely have rabies, especially if they found it during the day. And the bat doesn’t even have to obviously bite your child. For example, if you find a sick or dead bat in your child’s room in the morning when he wakes up, you should consider that a possible exposure to rabies.
Many other exposures happen when kids are bitten by stray cats or dogs.
What do you do?
According to the CDC, if your child is bitten by any animal or has any possible exposure to rabies, you should:
- immediately wash the wound well with soap and water, also using a povidone-iodine solution (Betadine Antiseptic Solution) to irrigate the wound if it is available
- see a healthcare provider
- call your local animal control for help in capturing the animal for observation or rabies testing
Animal control can also help in verifying a pet’s rabies vaccination status if your child was bitten by a neighborhood cat or dog.
“A healthy domestic dog, cat, or ferret that bites a person should be confined and observed for 10 days. Those that remain alive and healthy 10 days after a bite would not have been shedding rabies virus in their saliva and would not have been infectious at the time of the bite.”
CDC on Human Rabies Prevention — United States, 2008
In general, unless they already appear rabid, dogs, cats, and ferrets can be quarantined and observed for 10 days to see if they develop signs of rabies before your child begins post-exposure prophylaxis.
Other animals, including skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats should be considered rabid, with a quick start of post-exposure prophylaxis, unless the animal can be quickly tested (brain material) for rabies. And of course, you would be more considered about rabies if the animal was acting strangely, looked sick, or if it was an unprovoked attack.
What if you can’t find or capture the animal?
Depending on the circumstances, your pediatrician, with the help of your local or state health department, can determine if your child needs rabies post-exposure prophylaxis with rabies immune globulin and a 4 dose series of the rabies vaccine over 2 weeks.
“The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year in the 1990’s. Modern day prophylaxis has proven nearly 100% successful.”
CDC on Rabies in the U.S.
About 40,000 to 50,000 people in the United States get rabies post-exposure prophylaxis each year. That works to keep the number of rabies cases and rabies deaths in people very low.
And it is not probably not at the top of your list of things to think about at a time like this, but animal bites can also be a risk for tetanus. Make sure your child doesn’t need a tetanus shot.
What to Know About Getting Exposed to Rabies
Keep your kids safe from rabies by vaccinating your pets and teaching them to avoid wild animals, but also know what to do if your child is exposed to rabies.
More on Getting Exposed to Rabies
- CDC – Rabies
- WHO – Rabies
- CDC – Human Rabies Prevention — United States, 2008 (ACIP)
- CDC – Use of a Reduced (4-Dose) Vaccine Schedule for Postexposure Prophylaxis to Prevent Human Rabies: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
- CDC – Rabies Postexposure Vaccinations
- CDC – Rabies in the U.S.
- CDC (kids) – The Rabies Virus
- How lethal is rabies virus?
- Rabies: Questions and Answers
- Ask the Experts about Rabies
- CDC – Rabies in Your State
- Bats In The Bedroom Can Spread Rabies Without An Obvious Bite
- Rabies, bats, and a tragedy in Florida. How to protect your kids.
- CDC – The Burden of Rabies
- CDC – Take a Bite Out of Rabies!
- Letter – Long-Term Follow-up after Treatment of Rabies by Induction of Coma
- Study – Current and future approaches to the therapy of human rabies.
- Study – Experimental utility of rabies virus-neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies in post-exposure prophylaxis
- Review – Bats, emerging infectious diseases, and the rabies paradigm revisited