Tag: rabies

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Rabies

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:

  • raccoons
  • skunks
  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • bats

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.

To avoid rabies, teach your kids to avoid wild animals.
To avoid rabies, teach your kids to avoid wild animals. Photo by Emilie Chen (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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.

Never touch a bat that you find on the ground during the day, as it might have rabies.
Never touch a bat that you find on the ground during the day, as it might have rabies. Photo by Radu Privantu (CC BY 2.0)

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

A 6-year-old in Florida With Rabies Has Died

Never touch a bat that you find on the ground during the day, as it might have rabies.
Never touch a bat that you find in your home or on the ground during the day, as it might have rabies. Photo by Radu Privantu (CC BY 2.0)

As most people understand, rabies is a little different than most vaccine-preventable diseases.

Unlike other vaccines, you typically don’t get a rabies vaccine until after you are exposed to the rabies virus. That’s why the rabies vaccine isn’t on the routine childhood immunization schedule.

And that’s why we also try to routinely vaccinate all of the animals around us that might get rabies, especially our pets.

It’s also why it’s important to avoid animals that might have rabies, including unfamiliar cats and dogs, and wild animals, especially bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.

A 6-year-old in Florida Has Rabies

Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t always work.

A 6-year-old in Florida, Ryker Roque, was recently exposed to rabies when his father found a sick bat and placed it in a bucket on their porch. Little Ryker eventually put his hand in the bucket and was “scratched” by the bat, even though his father had warned him not to touch the bat.

Could someone search for advice on Google on treating a bite from a rabid animal and come away thinking their child doesn't need rabies shots from an anti-vaccine website?
Could someone search for advice on Google on treating a bite from a rabid animal and come away thinking their child doesn’t need rabies shots from an anti-vaccine website?

After searching for information on what to do if a child is bitten by a sick bat, Ryker’s parents decided to wash his hands with soap and hot water.

“If you think your pet has been bitten by a bat, contact a veterinarian or your health department for assistance immediately and have the bat tested for rabies.”

CDC on Coming in contact with bats

The Today Show reports that they didn’t take him for rabies shots, even though they “knew they should have,” because “Ryker cried at the thought of getting shots.”

In a more common scenario, or maybe what happened here, parents simply decide that the risk is low and they take their chances. This is even more common after a child is bitten by a stray cat or dog and you simply don’t have vaccination records or an animal to put in quarantine.

Experimental Treatments for Rabies

When traditional post-exposure prophylaxis isn’t used – human rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies shots to prevent someone from getting rabies, the disease is historically fatal. We have no good treatments for human rabies and rabies encephalitis.

“The poor prognosis in rabies may reflect the fact that infection induces immune unresponsiveness, characterized by impaired T-cell function, with altered cytokine patterns, inhibition of T-cell proliferation, and the destruction of immune cells.”

Alan C Jackson on Current and future approaches to the therapy of human rabies

Fortunately, some experimental treatments have been developed that can offer at least a little bit of hope when someone gets rabies, including:

  • The Milwaukee Protocol – developed for a 15-year-old girl in Wisconsin who developed rabies symptoms one month after picking up a bat that had fallen to the floor at church. The bat bit her as she carried it outside. As her symptoms progressed, she was put into a drug induced coma, put on a ventilator, and given antiviral medications. She eventually recovered with mild to moderate after-effects, but most others on the protocol do not recover at all.
  • use of rabies virus-neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies
  • new experimental vaccines

Tragically, reports about recovery from rabies and rabies encephalitis are rare.

Things that might point to a favorable outcome, in addition to being vaccinated, including being young and healthy, having mild symptoms when treatment is started, and being exposed to rabies from a bat, instead of a dog or other animal.

Unfortunately, like many others, Ryker died while on the protocol.

Anti-Vaccine Websites and Rabies Vaccines

Believe it or not, anti-vaccine websites even work to scare folks away from getting rabies vaccines after their kids are exposed to a rabid animal.

  • Age of Autism promotes a self published book about a child who “who regressed into autism following a series of rabies vaccines when he was three and a half”
  • The Healthy Home Economist claims that our pets are suffering from vaccinosis, that pet vaccines contain a toxic chemical cocktail, and that they are a scientific fraud.
  • GreenMedinfo published an article from Suzanne Humphries, MD warns that an ingredient in the rabies vaccine “could possibly throw children or adults onto dialysis and/or a kidney transplant”
  • Kelly Brogan, MD, in her “review article,” Psychobiology of Vaccination Effects: Bidirectional Relevance of Depression, continues to push the idea that the rabies vaccine can cause ADEM.

And of course, almost every anti-vaccine website and anti-vaccine expert pushes the idea that vaccines don’t work.

Get educated. While vaccines are always necessary, there are some situations when they are critically important.

What to Know About Bats and Rabies

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease, so be sure to seek quick medical attention if there is ever a possibility that your child was exposed to a rabid animal, whether it is a dog, cat, bat, raccoon, skunk, fox, or coyote.

More on Bats and Rabies

Updated January 15, 2018

Who is Joseph Meister

Most people know the big names in the history of vaccines.

They know that Edward Jenner developed the first smallpox vaccine (1798) and that both Jonas Salk (1955) and Albert Sabin (1960s) developed polio vaccines.

Many other important names are forgotten though.

Ever heard of James Phipps? He was the 8-year-old boy who was the first to become inoculated with cowpox by Jenner to see if it would protect him from smallpox.

Who is Joseph Meister

Edward Jenner didn’t go out of his way to experiment on Joseph Meister, but he has a similar story.

A plaque honors Joseph Meister and Louis Pasteur in the Alsace region of France.
A plaque honors Joseph Meister and Louis Pasteur in the Alsace region of France.

In 1885, Louis Pasteur had been working on an attenuated (weakened) rabies vaccine in his lab in Paris, but had still not tested it on any human patients yet.

One hot July morning in 1885, feverish little Joseph Meister was dragged by his frantic mother through the streets of Paris in search of an unknown scientist who, according to rumors, could prevent rabies. For nine-year-old Joseph had been bitten in 14 places by a huge, mad dog and in a desperate attempt to cheat death, his mother had fled from their home town in Alsace to Paris. Early in the afternoon Mme Meister met a young physician in a hospital. “You mean Pasteur,” he said. “I’ll take you there.”

Time magazine 1939

Supervised by two doctors, Dr. Alfred Vulpian and Dr. Jacques-Joseph Grancher, Joseph Meister received the first of 14 doses of Pasteur’s rabies vaccine on July 6, 1885, two days after he was bitten.

Joseph Meister survived and became the first person to be successfully vaccinated against rabies.

“As the death of this child appeared inevitable, I decided, not without deep and severe unease, as one can well imagine, to try on Joseph Meister the procedure which had consistently worked in dogs.”

Louis Pasteur

So at about the same time as anti-vaccine folks were marching in Leicester, Joseph Meister’s mother traveled over 400km to see a doctor she didn’t know, to get her son an experimental vaccine that had never even been used on a person before.

News of the Newark kids going to Paris to get Pasteur's rabies vaccine made the front page of the New York Times.
News of the Newark kids going to Paris to get Pasteur’s rabies vaccine made it into the New York Times.

Her son was lucky that she did.

It saved his life.

A few months later, a teenager named Jean-Baptiste Jupille was bitten by a rabid dog as he saved six other children that were being attacked. He became the second person to receive Pasteur’s rabies vaccine and he too lived.

Soon, Pasteur was a hero and many people were seeking his rabies vaccine from all over the world.

In December 1885, six boys from Newark, New Jersey were bitten by a rabid dog and there were calls to send them to Paris to be treated by Pasteur. Donations were collected and four of the boys ended up going on the steamship Canada to Paris.

While that trip to Paris generated some controversy, as some later doubted that the dog had rabies, there is no doubt that Pasteur’s rabies vaccine saved a lot of lives.

Few people survived having rabies in the pre-vaccine era.
Few people survived having rabies in the pre-vaccine era.

Why were folks in Newark, and apparently everywhere else, so afraid of rabies?

It had only been a few months earlier, about the time that Joseph Meister was being successfully vaccinated in Paris, that newspapers were reporting about “the terrible death” of a 5-year-old in Newark “after suffering the most intense agony.”

He had rabies.

Even if news of that case wasn’t fresh on their minds, it is easy to see that rabies wasn’t something you survived.

It should come as no surprise that there were soon rabies treatment clinics in major cities all over the world using Pasteur’s vaccine.

What to Know About Joseph Meister

At about the same time as anti-vaccine folks were marching in Leicester, Joseph Meister’s mother traveled over 400km to see a doctor she didn’t know, to get her son an experimental vaccine that had never been used on a person before – to save him from rabies.

More About Joseph Meister