If you are a baby boomer, you probably saw Old Yeller in the movie theater when you were a child and never forgot the heartbreaking ending, when the title character dog gets rabies, and his human friend Travis has no choice but to euthanize him. Today, the chances that things would end that way with a beloved family pet are low because most domestic dogs have been vaccinated against rabies. Therefore, even if your dog has been in contact with wild animals, it is protected from rabies even if a rabid animal bites your dog. Of course, if someone else’s dog bites you, it is natural to worry about whether you have been exposed to rabies because you cannot be sure that it has been vaccinated. The short answer is that you probably will not get rabies from a dog bite in Missouri, but it is a good idea to get prompt medical treatment after a dog bite even if your injuries seem minor. As with any medical treatment, the bills might be intimidating, but the Kansas City dog bite lawyers at Foster Wallace, LLC can help.

What is Rabies? How is Rabies Transmitted?

dog bite attorney kansas cityRabies is a viral illness that can affect humans, as well as almost every mammal species. When birds become exposed to the virus they can develop antibodies to the virus, but they do not get sick. Symptoms of rabies can appear anywhere from four days to six years after the bite that caused the exposure. The first symptoms to appear are fever and headache, which can be mistaken for many other illnesses. Then the classic rabies symptoms appear, such as delirium, aggression, inability to sleep, and painful spasms of the throat, which lead to an inability to swallow and excessive salivation (“foaming at the mouth”). These symptoms occur because of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Once the foaming at the mouth and the neurological symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal. 

Only one person is known to have survived rabies after the presentation of symptoms. In 2003, Jeanna Giese of Wisconsin was hospitalized with rabies symptoms, placed in a medically induced coma, and treated with antivirals. After she recovered, though, doctors discovered that she had already developed antibodies to rabies before the bite that caused her illness.

When a person gets bitten or scratched by an animal that might have rabies, the person should promptly seek treatment in the form of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If an animal bit you without provocation, that is reason enough to suspect that it has rabies because rabies makes animals more aggressive. PEP consists of several injections near the bite wound site and one deep intramuscular injection, usually in the shoulder or leg. PEP is 100% effective if given immediately after the bite occurs and still almost completely effective if given several days, or even several weeks later. If you get treatment promptly, the chances are almost zero that you will get rabies from a dog bite or other animal bite.

Rabies in Missouri Today

Thanks to PEP, you almost certainly do not have to worry about getting rabies from a dog bite in Missouri, but there is an additional reason that you should not worry about. Missouri law requires dog owners to vaccinate their dogs against rabies. Puppies must get a series of rabies vaccinations, and adult dogs must get a booster shot every three years. Of course, if a stray dog bites you, or if a pet dog whose owner you do not know bites you, you cannot be sure if the dog is up to date on its rabies shots, so the best thing to do is go to the emergency room immediately after the bite.  Tell the hospital staff in detail about the circumstances of the bite, and they will decide whether you are at enough risk of rabies exposure to make PEP necessary.

Because most dogs have been vaccinated against rabies, there have been no cases of humans getting rabies from dog bites in Missouri in more than a decade. Most rabies cases in Missouri, and elsewhere in the United States, are transmitted through bats. Furthermore, cases of rabies in the United States, and in the Americas in general, are very rare. The only country in the Americas where there is more than one rabies case per million people per year is Bolivia. The countries with the highest incidence of dog-to-human rabies transmission are in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and Asia.

Other Infectious Diseases That can be Transmitted by Dog Bites

Getting rabies from a dog bite in Missouri would truly be a freak occurrence, but other infectious diseases that can be transmitted by dog bites present a real risk. Bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria, as well as bacteria of the genus Pasteurella or the genus Capnocytophaga are common in people bitten by dogs. Often, the infection begins simply with the bite wound looking infected. It might remain red and swollen for more than a few days, and it may ooze pus. Then other symptoms, such as fever, respiratory symptoms, or digestive symptoms, can appear. You might think that you just have a cold or a stomach virus, but these infections can lead to meningitis, which can be fatal if untreated.

The bottom line is that, even though the risk of getting rabies from a dog bite in Missouri is very low, it is still important to go to the emergency room for treatment on the same day you get bitten. Antibiotics are effective against all the bacteria commonly transmitted by dog bites. Even if the doctors do not think you need antibiotics, and even if they are confident that your wounds will heal on their own without treatment, getting examined right after the bite incident also serves another purpose. It provides documentation of the time and nature of your injuries; this will be important if you have to file a dog bite lawsuit or help you settle your Kansas City dog bite case for fair compensation. 

The Dog Bite Injury Lawyers at Foster Wallace, LLC are Your Best Protection Against Steep Medical Bills 

While getting rabies from a dog bite may be a fear that belongs to a bygone era, dog bite victims in Missouri and Kansas have plenty of reasons to worry, and a dog bite lawyer can prevent your worries from becoming reality. Contact Foster Wallace, LLC in Kansas City, Missouri for a free consultation.

Michael Foster
Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney
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