Despite effective control of rabies among domestic cats and dogs in the United States, the disease continues to spill over from wild animals carrying the virus.

Because of the interaction among wild animals, people and pets, a Purdue University veterinarian says people should know what course of action to take if they suspect they've had exposure to the virus.

"While it's true that the majority of rabies cases occur in wildlife, most exposure to humans occurs when they are bitten by a domestic animal that has been exposed to rabies," says Lorraine Corriveau, a wellness veterinarian in the School of Veterinary Medicine. "That is why current rabies vaccinations are so important for our pets."

In 2006 there were nearly 7,000 cases of animal rabies reported in the United States. On Sept. 8, state agencies, health organizations and international rabies experts will observe the first World Rabies Day to try to increase awareness of the deadly disease.

The wildlife that pets are most likely to encounter are bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and wild dogs, all of which are hosts for rabies.

"Everyone should consider any animal bite, whether from wildlife or pets, as an emergency and get prompt medical attention," Corriveau says. "Animal bites should also be reported to your local animal control so that proper quarantine measures can be taken if necessary."

Any wild animal that bites a person or pet will be euthanized and tested for rabies immediately, Corriveau says. But if a person or pet is bitten by a domestic animal that has been vaccinated and appears healthy at the time of the bite, the pet can be confined for observation for 10 days. No antirabies shots would be required if the pet doesn't have rabies.

"Rabies vaccination for your pets, dogs and cats, is still the number one prevention you can take," Corriveau says. "Keep proper rabies and identification tags on your pets at all times. Report any stray animals or wildlife to your local animal control and do not try to capture an animal yourself. Consider any stray animal as a rabies risk."

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