Rabies is no joke: once you show symptoms of the viral disease, it's invariably fatal.
But if you suffer a bite or scratch, you can protect yourself from that and other infections by acting quickly, says Valerie Thompson, environmental health supervisor of the rabies program for the Virginia Beach, Va., Department of Public Health.
"Report all bites and go to your doctor," Thompson says.
Clean the wound immediately. Wash it with lots of warm, soapy water to kill viruses and bacteria, and apply an antiseptic solution for extra protection. Do this even if a bite or scratch is very small. Seek emergency care if a wound is deep or bleeding heavily.
Quickly report attacks by wild animals ... Animals that are aggressive or agitated enough to approach you have a good chance of being rabid. Call your local public health department for advice, which likely will involve getting a series of anti-rabies vaccines.
and strays. If you don't recognize a dog or cat, call the health department and animal control with as many details as possible on the animal's appearance and location; if it can be caught and stays healthy during a 10-day quarantine period, you may not need treatment. Note: Cats are more likely to be rabid than dogs, so report scratches, too.
Check paperwork on neighborhood pets. You may not want to report an incident if you know the animal and its owners, but don't just accept rabies tags as proof of vaccination -- they may have expired. Ask to see current documents from a vet; state laws require rabies shots every three years.
Watch the wound for infection. Aside from the rabies issue, call a doctor about swelling and redness, including red streaks on surrounding skin, and pus or cloudy discharge.