In New Hampshire, there are a lot of different people and agencies involved in the management of rabies risks -- animal control, law enforcement, veterinarians, animal owners, human medical providers, wildlife officials, laboratories, and more. This summary is intended as a brief reminder, refresher, or introduction to the correct steps to take in the event of a possible rabies exposure.
The attached flowcharts were the result of a meeting with the Animal Control Officers Association of New Hampshire. They capture the statutory requirements and are intentionally simple, but they do not cover every possibility. Please feel free to use them.
A recent case has prompted this reminder. A New Hampshire resident was bitten by a dog several months ago, and the dog was immediately euthanized rather than undergoing a 10-day hold. Unfortunately, it was only recently discovered that the necessary sample was not submitted for rabies testing. Education of the entire community of people who might be involved in a similar case seems to be the best way to avoid this same issue in the future.
By statute, RSA 436:99-109, the “rabies control authority” is local, and all quarantine/isolation of domestic animals is handled “under supervision of” or “as required by” locals. Local officials work hard to educate members of their communities about the risks rabies and the need to report bites and potential non-bite exposures.
In every case, bites should be reported to the appropriate local official in the town where the animal resides. It should also be reported to officials in the town where the bite occurred (if not the same town). These reports are most likely to come from the person who was bitten, their medical care provider, the animal owner, and the veterinarian involved.
Once a bite is documented, and regardless of the supervisory role of locals, samples are collected and submitted in a variety of ways -- private veterinarians, local animal control (with or without the assistance of a veterinarian), the NH Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and the NH Public Health Laboratory (cats only) are the most common.
In lieu of confinement when an animal bites a human, state statute only contemplates euthanasia of that animal, whether the animal is currently vaccinated against rabies or not. The relevant piece of 436:105, III is “any healthy dog vaccinated in accordance with RSA 436:100, which has bitten any person and caused a puncture of the skin or caused a nonbite exposure, shall be confined by the owner or other responsible person as required by local authorities” (emphasis added). There is no provision for euthanasia, but the decision to euthanize without confinement is reasonable in a variety of circumstances (e.g. to avoid the cost or challenges that accompany long-term confinement, quality of life concerns, ongoing risks associated with managing an aggressive animal, etc.). Since statute requires confinement, the decision to
euthanize an animal without confinement needs to be made with the approval of “local authorities”.
Whenever there is a question, it is also important for the human health care provider and veterinarian to discuss potential “non-bite exposures” with “local authorities”. Together, an assessment can be made to help decide whether the animal needs to be confined or tested.
The state does not regulate rabies risks for the sake of individual animal health rather for the protection of public health. Rabies vaccination is the only vaccine required of non-human animals in New Hampshire, because of its public health benefits.
The practicing veterinarian involved in the case is often the best source of information regarding risk assessment and handling of the animal. In cases where they would like input regarding their decisions, local officials should feel free to use that resource or to contact the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Food for advice; 603-271-2404.
*This document is the result of the collaborative efforts of the Animal Control Officers’ Association of NH; the NH DHHS; and the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food.