Deer Hunters and Rabies

What Deer Hunters Should Know About Rabies

Rabid deer are uncommon. Most Hoosier hunters will never see one. However, deer are susceptible to rabies and hunters should be alert to this risk.

Minimize your chances of exposure to rabies

  • Don't hunt animals that act abnormally. Avoid animals that are aggressive or tame; show no fear of humans; wander aimlessly; are disoriented; or appear to be sick, paralyzed or partially paralyzed.

  • Don't touch any dead animal unless YOU killed it when it was acting normally.

  • Don't tag an animal you find dead, even if it looks as if another hunter killed it. (Also be wary of taking road-killed deer. Rabid deer may be more likely to be struck.)

Take precautions when enjoying the outdoors 

  • Do not approach, feed or handle any wild animal.

  • Keep food and garbage in areas or containers secured against wild animals. 

  • Have cats and dogs vaccinated against rabies. (Indiana law requires vaccination.)

  • Keep pets leashed and do not leave them outdoors unattended.

  • You can be exposed to rabies from a pet (such as a hunting dog) that has saliva from a rabid animal on its coat EVEN IF THE PET IS NOT VISIBLY INJURED. As much as 50% of human exposure to rabies is through a pet. Handle an exposed pet with gloves and bathe it carefully. Call your local health department.

Avoid exposure to rabies when handling game

  • The rabies virus is not present in the meat itself, but in the surrounding nervous tissue, as well as in the brain, spinal cord and the animal's saliva.

  • Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into an open wound (bleeding in past 24 hours) or to mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth).

  • Avoid touching the animal's mouth, brain or spinal cord. Follow safety precautions:

    • Wear goggles and long rubber or plastic protective gloves while field dressing, skinning, butchering and processing meat.

    • After butchering, wash hands with soap and water, and wash any contaminated clothing and the work area.

    • Disinfect gloves and butchering utensils in a solution of one part household bleach to 20 parts water for about 20 minutes.

    • Wear gloves while preparing meat for cooking and wash your hands with soap when finished. Disinfect cooking utensils and food preparation area with disinfectant, as above.

    • Cook game meat thoroughly. Heat destroys the rabies virus and other disease-causing organisms that might be present.

    • Freezing will not destroy the rabies virus. Precautions should be taken while thawing meat.

    • Hanging the deer does not eliminate the risk of rabies.

    • For more detailed instructions, contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

If you are exposed to an animal that might be rabid

  • An exposure includes a bite, scratch, contact with saliva or nervous tissue.

  • Immediately wash the area with soap and running water for 10 minutes.

  • Seek medical attention right away.

  • Call your local Health Department.

  • Rabies is always fatal if not treated immediately.

  • Without risking further exposure or harm, hold the animal for rabies testing. Try not to damage the skull or brain when killing it. (Brain tissue is needed for testing.) The local health department can provide guidance for testing wildlife that may have exposed a human.

October 2014