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Jessi is bit by one of the animals and has to deal with the consequences of possible rabies exposure.

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Five days ago, I was bitten by one of the animals. Now, I've been bitten by animals before and besides re-evaluating their or my behavior, it wasn't that big of a deal.  I'd clean it, dress it, wait for it to heal, but this bite was a big deal.  Let's go say hi to the guy that caused all the drama.


This is Frasier the American mink.  We've had him for about a year now, and I've been training him for a voluntary injection.  I would like to get him vaccinated against rabies and distemper viruses.  I'm working on having him target or focus on eating while I touch his thigh with a pointy object.  Eventually, he'll become comfortable enough that we can simply give him his injections into his thigh and we don't have to risk the stress or danger of trying to restrain him.

The story begins during a late night training session.  He's nocturnal and he was really active and he managed to quickly bite my finger while I was touching his thigh.  Besides the horrible feeling of having your finger bitten and chewed on, I really didn't think much of it as I gritted my teeth and flushed my wound.  I applied betadine, which is an antibiotic, wrapped it in gauze, and went to bed.  It wasn't until the next morning that it occurred to me that Frasier is just a little bit different than the rest of our animals.

First off, he's a mammal that was found in the wild, which means his history is unknown.  Second, he's housed outdoors with potential exposure to bats that could crawl through his enclosure bars.  So I called my vet to run what happened past her.  She said that since he was potentially at risk for rabies exposure from bats, I was also at risk.  She said I had two options.  One, go get a rabies vaccine ASAP or two, euthanize him and have him tested in a lab.  If the tests came back negative, I wouldn't need shots.  If it came back positive, I'd need to go get a rabies vaccine as soon as possible.

Now, to me, the choice was easy.  I didn't want to euthanize him because I had made a simple mistake and it was my mistake, but to be clear, that doesn't mean that euthanasia is the wrong choice in all cases.  In this situation, I was able to make a choice that took into consideration the needs of Frasier as well as my own.

Rabies is usually only contagious if an animal is showing clinical signs of infection and since Frasier looked healthy and was acting normal, I didn't think he'd been exposed.  So I picked choice number one and prepared to get my rabies shots.

I called my county health department which was recommended by my vet and learned that I was labeled "post exposure", meaning I'd already potentially been exposed to the virus, AKA bitten.  The health department said that they only gave booster shots and since I had never received the vaccine before, I had to get my initial shot administered at the emergency room.  The infectious disease specialist at the hospital said that since I was post exposure without previous vaccines, I needed PEP, or Post Exposure Prophylaxis meaning preventative treatment.

I was confused.  Preventative care for post exposure?  But here's how it works.  The rabies vaccine is made of inactivated rabies viruses like chopped up little pieces.  When injected into your body, your immune system identifies the foreign substance as an antigen or a bad guy and it begins building antibodies to fight it off.  If I hadn't been post exposure, they could have simply given me the regular rabies vaccine and let my body naturally build up antibodies and memory b cells so it could be ready to react the next time it encountered the rabies virus.  I would have been followed up with three booster shots to further my body's defense against the rabies virus.  This is preventative treatment and it means that they gave me immunoglobulin that was donated by someone else.

Alright, so I needed immunoglobulin on top of a regular vaccine.  I could handle that.  The nurse came in with two syringes and a whole array of  needles.  They needed to get the immunoglobulin as close to the bite as possible and then an intramuscular injection into my deltoid and gluteus medius as well as the regular vaccine.  Okay, so four shots, that's nothing to save Frasier's life.  The regular vaccine into my arm wasn't that bad, less painful than a flu shot.  Next came the immunoglobulin as close to the bite as possible, into my right index finger.  Immunoglobulin is suspended in a gel that makes it really slow to come out of a tiny needle.  They gave me two injections on top of my finger and holy cow did it hurt.  It pinched and burned and throbbed and then they gave me two more injections on my pad and then another one just for good measure, and finally, they injected half of the remaining immunoglobulin into my arm and finished it off in my glute.

So.  Eight shots.  All together.  Eight.  I thought it was going to be two.  So this is the full PEP procedure.  The immunoglobulin would immediately start fighting off any potential antigens while my body began building antibodies against the vaccine.  I then needed to follow up with three booster shots on day 3, 7, and 14.  I just completed my first booster shot, which means I only have two more shots to go.  Woohoo.  And now if I'm ever bitten again or potentially exposed to rabies, I'll only need two booster shots instead of this whole series again.

All of this was necessary because Frasier hasn't had his rabies vaccine and he's housed outdoors.  Frasier, how about we make voluntary injection training our top priority, huh?  To me, the inconvenience and expense of getting myself vaccinated was absolutely worth his life, but if you work with animals that are at-risk for rabies exposure, take my advice and get vaccinated before you're exposed.  I'm actually kinda happy that I was forced to get vaccinated.  It's just one less thing to worry about.  Having my life inconvenienced and enduring physical or emotional pain are parts of my life that I welcome, because it means that I get to hang out with awesome animals, even little biters like Frasier.

If you'd like to join us on an adventure every week, maybe not getting bitten yourself, subscribe to our YouTube channel AnimalWondersMontana.  We'll see you next week.


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