Answering 7 questions about the WashU rabies scare

This story originally appeared on RealTime/STL.

Why was a bear at Washington University?

Congress of the South 40 has sponsored a petting zoo for several years as a sort of stress break during finals. The group created a Facebook event and listed the animals that would be at Sunday’s petting zoo; that list did not include a bear. University officials also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they did not know a bear would be part of the petting zoo.

Why are there rabies fears? Who’s at risk?

The bear was born in the wild, and it appears it had not been vaccinated against rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the virus is most commonly transferred through a bite from an infected animal.

Fox 2 and the Post-Dispatch report at least 14 students were “nipped” by the bear on Sunday. If the bear tests positive for rabies, students bit or nipped by the cub will need to undergo rabies vaccinations.

However, the Humane Society points out that while bears can get rabies, “it is very rare.”

How did students learn about the rabies threat?

The university’s director of Student Health Services sent an email to students Wednesday.

The bear will be euthanized. Why?

Domestic animals are typically quarantined and observed for rabies symptoms. Wild animals, however, may be infectious before they begin to show symptoms, according to the CDC, and must be euthanized to test for rabies. Post-Dispatch health reporter Blythe Bernhard explains why:

To diagnose rabies in wild animals, tissue from at least two locations in the brain must be tested.

If the bear had rabies, what does that mean for students?

Vaccinations, which are delivered in four doses. For adults, that means shots in the arm after exposure, then three, seven and 14 days after the first vaccination.

What are the symptoms of rabies for people?

The CDC reports early symptoms are similar to flu: general weakness, fever or headache.

There may be also discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia.

When clinical signs of rabies appear, typically after two to 10 days, rabies is nearly always fatal, according to the CDC.

What’s next?

While students and university officials wait for the test results, students are asking questions and contacting an animal rights group.

The CDC says the rabies test only takes a couple of hours, but results take up to 72 hours. It’s not yet known when the test was or will be performed.