Rabies is a preventable brain inflammation disease usually transmitted through animal bites. As rabies is nearly always fatal if not treated before symptoms occur, it's important that all potential exposures are reported and investigated to determine if treatment is necessary.
If you get bitten or scratched by an animal:
- Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and warm water, and also use a viricidal agent such as iodine.
- Seek medical attention and report the exposure immediately! See below for reporting instructions.
By law, all potential human exposures to rabies must be reported to the health department. Medical Clinics; Veterinary Clinics; Law Enforcement; Fish, Wildlife and Parks Employees; and other agencies must report exposure incidents. Bites from wild or domestic animals that penetrate the skin, along with scratches, abrasions, open wounds, and mucous membranes that have come into contact with their saliva, are considered potential rabies exposures.
- Report Immediately: Call City-County Health Department 406-454-6950 or fax 406-454-6959.
- Animal Bite Report Form: These forms can be filled out by victims, health care providers or law enforcement. Please provide as much information as possible, including clear contact information for the bite victim. View the Bite Report Form.
- Fax: the completed bite report form to the City County Health Department for all bites. If you do not have access to a fax machine, please call us.
- Cascade City County Health Department
- Cascade County Sheriff's Office
- Great Falls Police Department Dispatch
- Malmstrom Air Force Base, Public Health
Bats inside a home or other living spaces may also be considered an exposure if the bats have been in the home with individuals who are sleeping, unattended children, mentally-disabled people, or individuals who are intoxicated. These situations are considered exposures because bats have very small teeth and can bite and puncture the skin without an individual realizing and without leaving noticeable marks.
Bats are a common carrier of rabies and there was a bat that tested positive for rabies in Cascade County in 2020. If you see bats outside, do not touch or disturb them. If you find a dead bat, do not touch it, use a leather glove and some sort of tool to pick it up and dispose of it (CCHD does not test bats for rabies unless there is a human exposure). If you find a bat in your home and are unsure when it entered, call animal control (if in city limits of Great Falls) so they can safely capture the bat and bring it to CCHD for testing. If you are outside the city limits, you should try to safely capture it, secure the container to prevent escape, and bring it to CCHD (avoiding unnecessary damage to the head). If you observed a bat entering your home and no people or animals have come into contact with it, you can capture and release it outside. Do not release the bat if anyone came into contact with it, even for a brief amount of time, as bat bites are extremely small and may be undetectable. Do not leave doors or windows open, especially in the evening, unless you have screens. If you have ongoing issues with bats entering your home, you may need to bat-proof your home. You can seek help from a professional pest control company or wildlife removal service. There is also useful info at the links below.
Investigation & Treatment
At the Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD), all potential human exposures are investigated by Registered Sanitarians (RS) from the Environmental Health Division (EHD) - about 300 animal bites are investigated each year. EHD works with multiple agencies, including the Great Falls Police Department-Animal Control, Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology (CDEpi), Montana Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL), Local Veterinarians, Local Medical Clinics, and CCHD Prevention Services.
When a report is received, a Registered Sanitarian (RS) will investigate the circumstances of the exposure to determine if Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is necessary. PEP is a series of shots designed to treat rabies after an exposure. If an individual is bitten by a wild animal that is a common carrier of rabies, such as a bat, racoon, skunk, or coyote, the Health Department will likely recommend PEP.
If the animal can be captured and tested, the Health Department may be able to rule out an exposure, but only if it can be positively identified as the biting animal. If an individual is bitten by an animal that is not known to carry rabies, such as a rabbit, squirrel, or mouse, PEP typically isn’t recommended unless the animal is exhibiting extremely unusual behavior.
Rabies vaccination is the most effective way to prevent rabies transmission from pets (specifically cats, dogs, and ferrets), however, vaccinations can be ineffective for various reasons. For this reason, pets must be quarantined and observed for 10 days after a bite. In most situations, the pet can be quarantined in their own home. Observation is the most practical way to rule out a rabies exposure because the rabies virus is only transmissible during the end stages of the disease when symptoms are evident. If the pet remains healthy throughout the observation period, then it is safe to assume that rabies could not have been transmitted during the bite. A health check by a veterinarian may be required for vaccinated pets. The alternative to quarantine is to test the pet, but that requires the pet to be euthanized and is not typically done unless the owner wishes to euthanize.
When a report is received for a bite involving a pet, an RS will contact the victim to go over the report and explain the investigation process. The RS will also contact the pet owner to initiate the 10-day quarantine and observation. If Animal Control or the Sheriffs Department are involved in the incident, they will implement the 10-day quarantine and observation and provide the Health Department with copies of the quarantine agreement.
Rabies vaccination is the most effective to prevent transmission from pets (specifically dogs, cats, and ferrets). Rabies vaccinations of domestic dogs and cats is also required by law.
Petco offers pet rabies vaccinations for $9.00 -- contact Petco directly for dates and other information.
If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact the Environmental Health Division of the CCHD at 406-454-6950.