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Animal bites up in Marathon County


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) – Marathon County is on pace to have more animal bites this year than last.

The health department has had 161 animal exposures as of early August. Animal exposures are cases in which someone had been bitten or scratched by an animal. The county recorded 253 cases last year and 244 cases in 2009. Children who are younger than 15 make up about a third of the cases. Most of the bites or scratches have come from dogs and cats though one person was bitten by a rabbit this year.

Animal exposures are a concern for county officials when they cannot quarantine the animal to see if it has rabies or when they cannot verify the animal's vaccination status. Not knowing whether an animal is rabid causes bite or scratch victims to undergo a series of expensive rabies shots to protect against the deadly virus.

Officials at the health department and the Humane Society of Marathon County aren't sure why the number of animal exposures is on the rise. One theory holds that the number of bites increase in the summer when more people are outside. But the county continued to receive cases of animal exposures in November and December of last year, said environmental health and safety director Dale Grosskurth.

Humane Society executive director Mary Kirlin said you can prevent an animal bite by being aware of your surroundings. She said you should not make direct eye contact with an animal. And if you are about to be bit, you should not run away and should feed the animal something, like your purse or a jacket.

“You need to have that confidence and not be afraid of animals,” she said.

Kirlin also said owners need to take responsibility for their pets by checking whether their yard is properly secured and whether their animal is leashed.

“It's like having kids – you've gotta keep an eye and you need to know what they're up to and work to keep them corrected and on the right path,” she said. “And sometimes you need to call in professionals for that.”