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D2008-39

Dear Daisy Dog

My friend’s dog died of rabies, even though she is certain he was never around a wild animal. Could he have caught rabies through the air?

Daisy Responds

No. The rabies virus is transmitted only by direct contact, usually through a bite wound but sometimes when the virus enters a cut, scratch or mucous membrane.

Most cases like the one you describe result from an unrecognized bite by a rabid bat.

Bats’ teeth are so tiny that the bite usually isn’t felt, and the teeth leave no marks.

In the United States, most unexplained human rabies deaths are thought to have resulted from unnoticed bat bites.

A case in point is a 13-year-old Tennessee boy who repeatedly insisted he wasn’t bitten by the bat he had picked up and released soon afterward. Similarly, a Minnesota man who handled a bat didn’t think he was bitten because no blood was drawn. Both of these people died of rabies.

Many of you humans cringe when pricked by a needle yet don’t notice a bat bite. Though you have scant hair covering your skin, you still can’t see a bite mark. So please forgive us dogs who get bitten and neglect to tell you.

Rabies in animals is always fatal, and treatment in humans is successful only if it starts before symptoms develop.

So it’s much better to prevent rabies: Keep your pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date, and don’t touch bats or other wild animals.

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