Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
If you think an exposure to a rabid animal has occurred, call your doctor immediately.
The doctor should discuss both the animal's risk for having rabies and the risk of the exposure for transmission of the virus.
The doctor also should know if you have previously received vaccination against rabies, either because you're in a high-risk profession (for example, a veterinarian or zoo worker) or you have been exposed to a potentially rabid animal before. If you have been vaccinated previously, it will change the treatment that will follow after a new potential exposure.
Because rabies is such a rare disease, the doctor may be unfamiliar with the need for treatment or may not have the vaccine in the office for prompt administration. The local public health department is a good source of information in these cases, and a hospital's emergency department is a good place to seek medical care.
Any serious animal bite should be cared for as soon as possible in a hospital's emergency department.
In addition to the potential for transmission of rabies, other medical issues need to be checked:
Transmission of other infections, such as bacterial infections from the mouth of the biting animal
Need for an injection to maintain protection, or immunity, against tetanus (another type of infection that can be transmitted by bites or to open wounds)
Wound repair and cleansing
Even the most trivial bite can transmit rabies. Any bite or scratch by a rabid animal warrants the administration of rabies shots. Whether or not that animal is at risk for rabies depends somewhat on the region of the country and on the species of the animal. Any exposure to a bat where a bite cannot be ruled out must be considered a significant exposure even if you do not recall being bitten by the bat.