Communicable Disease & Epidemiology


Rabies: Frequently Asked Questions

Rabies is one of the most common reasons physicians call the Kent County Health Department (KCHD). Here is a list of the most commonly asked questions:

1. How common is rabies in Kent County?

On average, there is one case per year of animal rabies detected. The last case of human rabies was in 1983.

2. What animals are at risk for rabies in Kent County?

In 2004, the only animals testing positive for rabies in Kent County were bats. Nevertheless, exposures to skunks, raccoons, woodchucks and foxes are also considered high risk. These can be tested through the Michigan Department of Community Health. The following animals are not likely to carry rabies and are not tested unless symptoms suggest rabies: chipmunks, gerbils, gophers, guinea pigs, hamsters, moles, mice, muskrats, prairie dogs, rabbits, rats, shrews, squirrels and voles.

3. When is bat season?

Expect to see an increase in exposures during May through October.

4. Is Post Exposure Prophylaxis recommended after all bat exposures?

Between 1990 and 2004, 46 cases of human rabies were reported in the U.S. ; 34 (74%) were due to a bat strain. Only four of these had a history of a known bite. Therefore, in addition to obvious bites, the CDC suggests that PEP be considered when contact with a bat may have occurred (e.g., wake up to a bat in the room, exposure of a bat to previously unattended child, mentally disabled person or intoxicated individual) and the bat is unavailable for testing.

5. Does KCHD administer rabies vaccine?

Not for treatment after an exposure. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is available through the Kent County Health Department for a fee. Appointments can be made by calling (616) 632-7200.

6. Where does one get rabies immune globulin (RIG) and vaccine administered?

RIG and vaccine are typically only available through hospital emergency departments. Physician's offices may order vaccine for administration in the office. However, it is crucial not to alter the vaccine schedule. Vaccine can be ordered through Novartis at (800) 244-7668 or Sanofi Pasteur at (800) 822-2463.

7. What animal bites are reportable?

A bite from any mammal capable of transmitting rabies is reportable to the Kent County Animal Shelter by phone at (616) 632-7300 and fax at (616) 632-7324.

8. How do I get an animal tested?

Bats and other high risk animal should be brought to the Animal Shelter. The brain must be intact. If the animal is dead, keep it cool, but don’t freeze it.