By Ben Sherman, Fort SillApril 19, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (April 19, 2012) -- The Army Surgeon General issued orders last year to all five Army Regional Medical Commands to raise awareness and education related to the risks of rabies exposure from feral animals.
"Some deployed Soldiers may have been exposed to the rabies saliva from unprotected animals entered their bodies, as would happen in a bite or lick to an open wound," said Capt. Nathan Teague, Reynolds Army Community Hospital preventive medicine chief. They have been told to seek care if they were exposed. We're here to support the evaluation of Soldiers who have potentially been exposed."
"A bite or lick to an open wound from a wild animal in Iraq or Afghanistan needs to be treated. Soldiers with these exposures should seek care as soon as possible," said Capt. Jasmine Peterson, Army Public Health Nursing chief at Fort Sill.
Soldiers with these exposures should come to Army Public Health Nursing, Building 2777 Ringgold Road for evaluation anytime Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The war zones are not the only place where the threat of rabies can be found. Closer to home Soldiers and their families are spending more time outside, and in some cases with their pets, as the weather warms.
This puts the pets at risk of encountering feral animals that are infected with rabies.
"We've got a lot of animals here on post that aren't properly vaccinated," said Teague. "Families are coming and going; they're adopting free roaming animals that have been left behind by neighbors when they leave. While free roaming, these domestic animals have had plenty of opportunity to come in contact with wild animals that may have rabies," he added.
Teague went on to state that when people living on post adopt pets off-post and bring them onto Fort Sill, they should tell Picerne Military Housing and make sure the pets get properly vaccinated.
"The cartoon type figure of an animal foaming at the mouth, looking as though it's extremely crazy is not the only representation of a rabid animal. People need to realize that an animal can have rabies and not show it on the outside," said Peterson.
"If you are not sure about an animal, don't touch it or play with it. That goes for both domestic animals that aren't tagged appropriately and certainly wild animals," Teague said.
Another point that Teague emphasized is that rabies, once acquired, is nearly 100 percent fatal unless a patient gets the appropriate care soon after exposure, before the symptoms of the rabies virus present themselves. If somebody thinks they have been exposed, they need to seek care in the emergency room.
"If someone receives any kind of bite from any animal, domestic or wild, they need to seek medical care. In addition to potential post-exposure preventive care for rabies, they also need the wound cleaned and may need antibiotics administered," Teague added.
"[Most people are] aware that raccoons, skunks and other wild animals can have rabies, but think we have eradicated rabies from dogs and other domestic animals because of pet rabies vaccination programs. But that is not true," Peterson said. "When domestic animals mingle with wild animals with rabies, they can acquire rabies, and that possibility exists at Fort Sill."
"Seek care for all animal bites, including your own dog or your neighbor's dog, even if they are vaccinated, because of the other medical care you may need."
"Keep track of the animal and call military police to pick up domestic or wild animals that have bitten you, so preventive medicine personnel will know what recommendations to make," Teague said. "Call military police to pick up any free-roaming domestic or wild animals before they can bite someone," he added.
Teague emphasized that many people who come to Fort Sill don't know there are wild animals in this area, and that the potential exists for domestic animals to contract rabies. Some parts of the United States don't see rabies in domestic animals much.
"We want to raise awareness of the importance of getting domestic animals vaccinated and avoiding exposure to wild animals, because you don't know what illnesses they may be carrying," Teague said.
Rabies is a serious, almost universally fatal viral disease that is transmitted to humans from infected animals through bites or contact with saliva on an open wound. Here are some facts that Fort Sill personnel need to know.
-- Soldiers who have been bitten by or had exposure from saliva to an open wound from feral animals while deployed should seek medical attention immediately from Army Public Health Nursing, Building 2777 Ringgold Road.
-- Personnel living on post must register all dogs and cats and have them immunized for rabies within 14 days of arrival.
-- All dogs and cats must wear a tag at all times when they are outside and be in a fenced yard or on a leash.
-- Any pet that bites a person will be quarantined for 10 days, even if they have been immunized.
-- Always assume that a feral animal may have rabies and avoid contact with them.
-- Do not pet, pick up or play with stray dogs or cats. They may have been exposed to rabies if they came in contact with feral animals.
-- Keep your dogs and cats from coming in contact with feral animals. Never let your pets run wild.
The Fort Sill Veterinary Treatment Facility offers registration and immunization of pets for active duty and retired military personnel only.
Pets can also be immunized off-post, but they still must be registered at the VTF and provide proof that the pet has been immunized within the last year. For more information about registering pets and the fees for immunization, contact the Fort Sill Veterinary Clinic at (580) 442-3416, or logon to the clinic staff's web page at www.sillmwr.com/community/fort-sill-vet-clinic.