There are all kinds of dangers present in the Missouri woods for which all whitetail hunters should prepare. Whether it is dehydration, rough terrain, or inclement weather, we think and plan ahead so we are able to deal with these situations as they arise. Another part of the protection you should afford yourself when hunting is knowing the warning signs of rabies and how to prevent transmission.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of infected animals. It is typically transmitted via bite and ultimately goes on to affect the brain and cause death within 10 days. Rabies is commonly found in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and others, including whitetail deer. This disease can occur at any time of the year, which makes it a real threat to those out hunting who may stumble across an animal which has contracted rabies.
Rabies is acquired through contact with the saliva, brain matter, or spinal fluid of infected animals. It is transmitted through mucus membranes or open wounds such as via bite. Once rabies takes hold, symptoms such as aggression, insomnia, confusion, anxiety, partial paralysis, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear or water) occur. Nocturnal animals may be seen roaming about during daylight hours as another possible indication; any seemingly odd or unusual behavior is a reason to be concerned. Animals with the disease often foam at the mouth but this is not a guaranteed indicator of the disease; rabies can only be confirmed via necropsying the head of a dead animal. Because of this, if you shoot an animal you suspect might having rabies, the head will need to be free of damage in order to confirm the presence of the disease.
Photo: Londonderry Vets
Once infected, it is possible to survive rabies with treatment as long as care is provided promptly and before symptoms begin to occur, at which point the damage is irreversible. Treatment includes cleaning and dressing of bite wounds, tetanus vaccines for those who have not had one within the past 10 years, and possibly antibiotics. Also included is a series of postexposure vaccinations. These are comprised of human rabies immune globulin as well as rabies vaccines. This series of injections is given over the course of two weeks and is injected in muscle. It is said to be painful but is also effective.
Photo: Mass Live
If you hunt with dogs, it is important to vaccinate them against rabies before taking them into the field. As dogs run through the woods, they are quite likely to encounter animals you might not see that could be infected with rabies. This could result in a bite from such animals so it is better to be safe than sorry. As far as protecting yourself goes, be wary of strange animal behavior and give such animals a wide berth. If possible, contact the MDOC regarding the animal, but if you must defend yourself by dispatching the animal, try to keep the head and brain tissue intact for testing purposes. It may also be possible to trap such animals, but the key thing to remember is that you do not want to put yourself or others at risk of getting bit. In the event that you are bitten, seeking immediate healthcare is vital to ensure your survival.
Photo: AZ Vets
With a little luck, rabies may be something you never encounter in your whitetail hunting efforts. However, rabies is present in Missouri thus you should be vigilant. In 2014, there were 27 confirmed cases of rabies in Missouri. These were mostly bats and skunks but two cats were infected as well. In fact, a Missouri man died earlier this year after being infected by a bat. Deer infection is less common but does still occur. There was a case in nearby Indiana over the summer where a woman was attacked by a rabid deer and a hunter was exposed to a rabid deer as well which he cleaned without wearing gloves while open wounds were present on his hands, something that should be avoided.
Have you ever seen a rabid animal in the field? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments.