Health: Does an animal bite mean you need a rabies shot?

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

Phoenix -- As the weather cools down and we head outside, our chances of running into some wildlife go up. And sometimes those unexpected encounters can end with a nasty bite.

What should happen is a call to the doctor or Arizona Poison Control, because that bite could mean you need a rabies shot.

From a bat attack in Oregon to a javelina bite in Sedona, some recent animal encounters are raising concerns and questions about rabies.

John Bourgault began rabies shots after a javelina bit him in Sedona. Because the animal could not be caught and observed, Dr. Frank Lovecchio with Banner Health's Poison Control Center, says it was better to be safe than sorry.

Many people are worried about rabies, and it is almost 100 percent fatal. But that said, the incidence is relatively rare, and the chances of needing a shot are slim.

"We usually recommend rabies vaccination one in about 25 calls," he says. "That is, in large part, because we don't usually run into the most common carriers."

Interestingly enough, in our state, skunks and foxes commonly had rabies, or more than other animals. But the king of rabies carriers? Bats.

You may have seen a video of a man who was bitten on a camping trip in Oregon. But it is not just bites that cause concern. Bats can cause micro-abrasions on your skin, like little scratches, and there is even some thought that rabies can go through your eyes or your mouth.

So any bat exposure would probably lead to a recommendation for vaccination.

What would most likely not require a vaccination is a dog bite. In our state, we haven't seen a case of a dog giving a human rabies in over a decade. It is exceedingly rare.

And Lovecchio says the virus is not fast moving. He says doctors recommend being seen within a week, which is what Bourgault did, after that javelina bit and ran.

"You have no idea whether the animal is rabid," he says. "They can't do the test because they can't find the darn things."

Lovecchio says most large hospitals do have rabies vaccine on hand. They also give you a drug to help kill the virus and that is injected right into the wound.