Last Friday, my work week ended with a trip to E.R. Thankfully, I've never had to say that before. Truthfully, I had reservations about sharing this story, because I was rather embarrassed about all of this... but since I am in the business of telling other people's stories, here is mine.
If you read my last blog post, you know I was pretty proud of my story about the 95-year-old man who beat a rabid fox to death in his backyard using only a wooden plank -- especially because I worked so hard to convince him to talk to me. The story featured a stand up, in which I held up the wooden board he used in front of the camera. Turns out a pediatrician was watching the news that night, was horrified the moment I picked up the 2x4 with my bare hands. "I am writing because I am concerned that if that actually was the wood he used to beat away the rabid fox, you may have inadvertently put yourself at risk of contracting rabies," the doctor wrote me in an email. "That wood might contain blood or saliva from the fox, contaminated with the rabies virus."
There were a number of reasons why I picked up that piece of wood. 1. It would make an interesting and interactive stand up 2. The 95 year old man didn't need a rabies shot, so why would the board be a risk? 3. Three days had passed since the attack 4. The board had been sitting out in the rain, so I figured any saliva would have been washed away.
But the doctor's serious tone in his email did give me pause. The next morning I called my primary care physician and my veterinarian, out of an abundance of caution. The vet assured my that my cats were up-to-date on their vaccines. "Did they encounter a wild animal?" she asked. "Nope. Just me." She assured me that not only were my cats fine, but so was I. The odds of contracting the rabies virus that way are very small. I wasn't worried...until a few hours later, when my PCP's office called me back. "We recommend you go to the E.R. right away to get your first rabies shot, then schedule three more appointments with us to get your follow up shots. There is a chance you exposed yourself to rabies."
I couldn't believe it! I asked them to double check, the office consulted an infectious disease expert, and they called again to confirm I had to go the emergency room right away. Not only did I foolishly expose myself to rabies -- but I did it on television! I alerted my managers, who were just as surprised that I was, and I left work early Friday afternoon to check in to Maine Med. I told the story about the wooden, rabies-infested board to about 3 medical professionals, all who seemed very skeptical. Right before I was about to get my rabies shot, the doctor said he just wanted to check with one more person. He called the Maine CDC, who consulted on the 95-year-old man's case. The CDC said they didn't even advise the 95-year-old to get a rabies shot (because he wasn't bitten or exposed)... so I definitely did not need the shot. A HUGE sigh of relief. I didn't have rabies!
I had a few good laughs about the whole ordeal... and did some reflection about how I got myself into the situation in the first place. Did I do anything unsafe? Not really. But the fact is, I didn't know enough about the rabies virus to really be sure. And I'm glad that doctor emailed me, because it ultimately helped me understand the rabies threat a bit more.
Fast forward to today, and I had the opportunity for a do-over: ANOTHER rabies case in the same town. I interviewed the same Animal Control Officer, who reassured me that the rabies virus only survives on a surface for a few hours, so by the time I touched the board, it was long gone. I also did not have an open wound. Rabies is dangerous -- and fatal -- but thankfully not spread that easily. After speaking to Animal Control, I got the chance to interview the man who killed the rabid fox, in what is Brunswick's fourth rabid animal attack in three weeks. And while I had to shoot another stand up for this story, I refrained from touching this shovel.
To bring this story full-circle, the family had seen the news story we did on the 95-year-old man last week. It was because of that media coverage that they knew to be on-the-lookout for rabid animals in Brunswick. If you remember, I told the elderly man that his story could potentially help someone else, and promote a public safety message. Hopefully I played a small part in keeping someone else a little more safe... even if it meant my own rabies scare. :)