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5 myths (and facts) about rabies (and dog bites)

By Ken Gibson on June 30, 2021

When you hear “rabies,” you probably think of an angry, violent coyote foaming at the mouth. While rabies, or rabies lyssavirus, is more common in wild animals, any mammal can catch it, including your neighbor’s friendly dog – or even cat.

Rabies is a scary disease, because it is often fatal if you do not receive prompt treatment. However, several myths surround rabies that also put people in danger. So, we at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys want to dispel the myths – and share the facts – to help keep our neighbors safer.

Myth 1. Rabies is only caused by an animal bite.

Myth: You can only get rabies if you are bitten by an infected animal.

Fact: Rabies is spread through the spit and saliva of infected animals. When someone is bitten by an infected animal, the virus can spread from the animal’s saliva into the open wound, but it can also infect a human through the eyes, mouth, or nose. For example, if an infected dog licks its owner’s face, the owner could contract rabies, even though the dog is not showing symptoms.

Myth 2. Rabies is contracted only by wild animals.

Myth: Only wild animals like racoons and coyotes get rabies.

Fact: Over 92% of all rabies case involve wild animals, but that leaves at least 7% that involve domestic animals. In addition, at least three human cases were reported in the United States in a recent year, meaning it’s rare, but still possible, for a human to be infected.

Here in Virginia, racoons are the most likely animal to have rabies, but any animal that has not been vaccinated can contract rabies. Rabies is limited to mammals, which means that dogs, cats, ferrets, and mice can all be infected.

Rabies is more common in countries outside the United States, meaning a foreign domestic animal could spread the disease. If you take your pet out of the country or encounter a pet from another country, the risk is higher that it has come into contact with rabies.

Myth 3. It is easy to tell if an animal has rabies.

Myth: You can tell if an animal has rabies because it is aggressive or foaming at the mouth.

Fact: Most infected animals do act aggressively, but that is not the only symptom; some animals may appear more passive at first. The earliest sign that an animal or human has contracted rabies is flu-like symptoms, including fevers, fatigue, and discomfort. An infected animal may have difficulty staying upright and suffer from seizures and paralysis.

Anytime you are bitten by a wild or domestic animal, you should make sure you clean the wound with soap and see a doctor. Cleaning the wound does help prevent the spread of rabies, but it is still best to get your wound checked out by a trained medical professional to make sure.

Myth 4. Rabies is incurable.

Myth: If you are bitten by an animal that has rabies, there is no treatment.

Fact: Rabies is preventable and treatable! Vaccinations are available for both humans and animals that limit the spread of rabies. If you are bitten by an animal that you think has rabies, you can also get another vaccination at an emergency room that stops the spread of the virus. Bite victims should receive a vaccine within two to 10 days of a bite. Rabies is only fatal if the bite victim has already started experiencing symptoms, which can take up to two weeks after a bite to develop.

Myth 5. Indoor pets do not need rabies vaccinations.

Myth: Rabies is only an issue for pets that go outside or live in rural areas.

Fact: The risk of contracting rabies is lower for indoor pets, but it is still important to vaccinate your pet annually against rabies to eliminate the risk. All dogs and cats that are four months or older must be vaccinated and receive regular booster shots every one to three years, according to the Code of Virginia § 3.2-6521. This decreases the chances of your pets becoming infected and spreading the virus.

Here in Gloucester County, local health agencies require dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated starting at four months old. Vaccinations are also required to license a dog in our county.

What should I do after a dog bite?

Don’t dismiss a dog bite as a minor injury: it can lead to broken bones, infections, scars, and emotional trauma. If someone else’s dog bit you or your child or loved one, you may be able to receive full compensation in a personal injury claim. These injuries are often covered under a homeowner’s insurance, or renter’s insurance, which should pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

However, getting compensation for a dog bite may be an uphill battle. The dog’s owner or his insurance company may try to blame you for the attack, argue that your injuries are not serious, or deny your claim. Instead of going it alone, put our team at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys to work for you.

We are dedicated Virginia injury attorneys who have spent years standing up for people throughout Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and beyond. We bring you big-city experience and small-town care. We’ve worked for big insurance companies and in big cities as trial lawyers. Now, we are proud to serve our neighbors out here in Eastern Virginia with our experience and expertise.

GibsonSingleton will advocate for you with insurance companies, taking your case to trial if necessary, to get you full compensation. To sit down with a Virginia dog bite injury lawyer in a free consultation, call (804) 413-6777 or toll-free (855) 781-6777. We will take the time to learn how your injuries have affected your life and fight to make you whole again.

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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.