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Rabies: What Hunters and Trappers Should Know

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  • Rabies is a disease caused by a virus affecting the central nervous system. Left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal.
  • Rabies is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, however, people may also be exposed by being scratched by a rabid animal or getting an animal’s saliva into an open wound or mucous membrane (eyes, nose, or mouth).
  • Only mammals get rabies; birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians do not. Raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, dogs, cats and some farm animals are most likely to get rabies. Rabbits, opossums, squirrels, rats, and mice are seldom affected.
  • An epidemic of raccoon rabies reached Connecticut in March 1991. Since then, rabies has infected thousands of raccoons. Cases in non-raccoon species, including dogs, cats, skunks, foxes and woodchucks have also been reported.

Hunters and trappers can minimize their risk of exposure to rabies by following several common sense rules and by knowing what to do if they or their pets are exposed:

  • Avoid contact with animals appearing sick or acting abnormal, i.e. aggressive, paralyzed, disoriented or unusually tame.
  • Wear disposable rubber gloves when dressing and skinning game, and clean up with soap and water promptly.
  • Make sure your dogs have current rabies vaccinations. If you have a cat as a household pet, be certain it is vaccinated as well.
  • If you frequently handle high risk species such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, or woodchucks, consider getting the human pre-exposure vaccine.
  • If you are bitten or scratched or think that you have been exposed to rabies from a wild animal, wash the exposed area thoroughly with soap and water, and contact your doctor or emergency clinic, immediately.
  • If possible, without further injury or risk of exposure, capture, kill or confine the wild animal without damaging the head, and contact your local health department for additional information.
  • If your pet fights with a wild animal, attempt to secure the animal for rabies testing. Always wear gloves when handling your pet or treating its wounds under such circumstances. Contact the pet’s veterinarian for advice and/or treatment.
  • Rabies virus is concentrated primarily in the saliva, brain, and spinal cord. Heat from thorough cooking will kill rabies virus, making properly cooked meat from game animals safe. When preparing meat for cooking, wearing rubber gloves and cleaning up with soap and water is recommended.
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