Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Raccoons, Rabies & Decapitation

Raccoon head being tested for rabies in Richmond, Virginia.   Original post from 2005.
The definitive test for rabies in a wild animal is done by decapitation, and there is even a tool made for the job, as unbelievable as that sounds. The tool is called the "decapitation guillotine" and it looks just like it sounds. The really hard-to-believe part is that it is made by an outfit called --wait for it -- "Animal Care." A guillotine! The sales pitch is as follows:

"When it is necessary to remove the head of a rabies-suspect cadaver, our decapitation Guillotine does the job safely, cleanly, and easily. Features a screw-type mechanism that slowly lowers a cutting blade. Opening is 10"Wx14"H. Heavy steel construction then powder-coated. This is the only guillotine we know of that assures complete operator safety and gets the job done right."

One of the things animal control officers are warned about rabid raccoons is that "Regardless of who does the shooting, it is critical NOT TO SHOOT THE ANIMAL IN THE HEAD, as the rabies virus is concentrated in the brain tissue."

Uh, OK, but if the damn thing is charging can we shoot it in the head anyway?

If you are ever bitten by a raccoon, fox, skunk or any other wild animal, the first thing to do is thoroughly wash the wound or area of exposure with soap and water. This is one of the most effective methods to decrease the chance of infection.

Some people -- animal control officers and trappers, mostly -- get a preventive rabies vaccination. This vaccination -- called pre-exposure prophylaxis -- involves three injections over 3 or 4 weeks. A booster shot every 2 years maintains the vaccination's effectiveness, but it does not prevent you from having to get more shots if you are actually bitten -- it's just reduces the number of shots required from five to three.  A full panel of 5 shots costs between $1,500 and $2,000, with the shot being given over a one-month period.

Each year, an estimated 40,000 people in the United States receive treatment for suspected rabies exposure.


Traps said...

I can 'beat' that one, Pat. LOL! I read somewhere about how the uk was investigating the possibility of using Guillotine's to kill laboratory inmates, prior to dissection :o

I'd only hope they had a quicker action than that Franconian looking device there?

Whoops! Now I've dropped a stich! ROTF!

Heather Houlahan said...

Years ago, when rabies was just starting to appear in Massachusetts (which had been rabies-free for some time), my friend the ACO got a cut on her hand while helping to decapitate a raccoon that subsequently tested positive.

They were using a SAW. On a HUGE boar raccoon. Horrible job.

Sue had the pre-exposure prophylaxis by virtue of her job, but the post-exposure series was still no picnic.

My husband was still finishing his doctorate at the time. He hooked her up with a supplier who produces guillotines for laboratory animals. The guillotine is used in the labs because it is extremely fast and humane, and kills the animal without chemicals, without causing physiological changes that would taint the results. At that time it was absolutely the preferred method for rodents.

Not an issue for the already-dead-animals being prepped for rabies testing, but it is much safer for the operator, and gives a cleaner cut.

BTW, later, PeTA freaks got the Cambridge city council to mandate that lab animals be "euthanised" with carbon monoxide -- they thought the guillotine was violent and icky. Of course, CO poisoning is a terrible way to die, a barbaric thing to do to an animal. I'd take the guillotine any day.

Jules said...

I was an Animal Control Officer in Northern California in the early 90s, and we were indeed taught to not shoot them in the head. I never had one charge at me, so it never came up in a hurry. But during that and my previous 7 years of vet tech work, I took off a few heads, mostly of dogs. It was a pain in the neck...

Anonymous said...

Once, while waiting with a friend for Animal Control in Asheville, N.C. to pick up a deliriously rabid raccoon in his yard, in the last wretched stages of the disease, we were wondering if they would test the animal to be sure it was rabid. When the Animal Control Officer arrived, he told us the head would be cut off, and the brains analyzed in the state capital, Raleigh, N. C. As this is our political capital, I could not resist making the comment, "I bet that's the most brains they'll have seen in Raleigh in some time!" To which the Officer seriously replied, having no idea the joke I was making, but giving a perfect response nonetheless, "Oh no! They have lots of bat and skunk brains there, too!"