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Good Question: What Is Rabies?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The city of Minneapolis announced Wednesday it caught and euthanized a fox suspected of biting two people near Lake Harriet.

City officials said the animal will be tested for rabies, and they are encouraging people in the area to keep an eye out for other animals that could be infected.

Rabies is a virus that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord. It can cause lethargy, staggering and paralysis in the animals it infects.

It can also cause the animals to do things they might not normally do, like act aggressively toward humans.

The most common form of transmission is through a bite.

"Rabies is transmitted through infected saliva, infected spit," Dr. Stacey Schwabenlander, a senior veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said.

According to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, any mammal can develop rabies. Minnesota usually sees between 40 to 60 positive tests each year. In 2015, 16 bats, eight skunks, two dogs, one cow and one fox tested positive.

Dr. Schwabenlander said skunks and bats are the biggest carriers of the virus in Minnesota because that is the specific type of rabies in the state.

"Here in Minnesota, the likely culprit to infect a fox with the rabies virus would actually be a skunk," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control said more than 90 percent of rabies cases are wild animals. It is rare to see pets with the virus anymore due to advances in vaccinations.

The city of Minneapolis does require pets to be licensed and have a rabies vaccination certification.

The virus is fatal if untreated. There is no treatment for animals, but humans can receive a series of four shots following a bite. Dr. Caitlin Eccles-Radtke, an infectious disease doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center, said a person bitten by a rabid wild animal would receive a rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin immediately. They would also get the rabies vaccine shot on the third, seventh and 14th day after the bite.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) suggested any humans exposed to potentially rabid animals should contact their physician and MDH for advice as soon as possible after exposure. In some cases, dogs and cats that bite a person can be observed for ten days before treating a person.

"We don't want people to unnecessarily get shots," Carrie Klumb, an epidemiologist with MDH, said.

Human deaths from rabies have dropped from more than 100 per year in the 1940s to an average of two to three per year now. This is due to successful vaccinations in pets and treatments in humans.

The majority of human deaths that have occurred have been from bat bites that can be hard to detect.

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