Rabies: Share the message. Save a life.
Today is World Rabies Day. Rabies, a fatal viral infection that is preventable in pets and people. Yet it remains a major concern worldwide, killing around 59,000 people every year. Almost all of these deaths are due to rabies transmitted by dogs. Theses deaths occur in countries where dog vaccination programs are not sufficiently developed to stop the spread of the virus. We are lucky in the United States that we have easy access to vaccines for our pets.
Merci Monsieur Pasteur
In July 1885 a nine-year old boy from Alsas, France was bitten by a rabid dog and became the first person to be vaccinated (post exposure) with a rabies vaccine. Louis Pasteur developed this vaccine.
At the time rabies (or hydrophobia as it was known) was rare but caused great fear in Europe because of the way in which victims died; a painful death and the familiar foaming at the mouth. Pasteur found the disease interesting to study due to the incubation period (about a month) and he decided to develop a new type of vaccine.
Pasteur and his team developed a vaccine that protected dogs but also prevented the disease from becoming symptomatic if administered post-exposure.
His vaccine worked. The boy didn’t develop rabies. And after starting treatment of another boy in October, Pasteur declared the vaccine a success before the French National Academy of Medicine. The story was international news; patients from America came to Europe to receive the “miracle cure”.
People at Risk
Rabies is a significant public health threat since rabid animals can come in contact with humans and their pets. While pets are easily vaccinated against rabies, people exposed to rabies must undergo a costly series of shots to protect them from the disease if they are exposed.
The most important global source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Most commonly where dog vaccination programs are wide-spread enough to prohibit the spread of the disease. Children are often at greatest risk. They are more likely to be bitten by dogs and are also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites in high-risk sites on the body. Severe exposures make it more difficult to prevent rabies unless access to good medical care is immediately available.
Pets at Risk
Your pet birds, fish, and reptiles cannot get rabies, only mammals can get it. Cats have become the most common domestic animal infected with rabies. Many pet parents choose not to vaccinate cats and they tend to frequent outside areas where they can come into contact with wildlife. Rabies as you know affects dogs and is also common in cattle. It is less prevalently seen in goats, sheep, horses, swine, and ferrets.
Wildlife is most likely to be infected with rabies. It is critical to vaccinate every pet. This is a human health concern but it would be horrible to lose your beloved four-legged family member to a disease that is 100% preventable. What you need to do to prevent rabies in your pet:
- Your veterinarian is your best resource for specific rabies information.
- Keep your pet up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. (Dogs, cats, ferrets, and select horses and livestock.
- Reduce exposure to wildlife and unvaccinated pets. Spay or Neuter your pet to help reduce the possibility of roaming tendencies.
- Reduce the presence of stray or wild animals in your yard, don’t store trash or pet food outside.
- If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to your animal care and control department.
- Maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision.
World Rabies Day
September 28th is World Rabies Day and a great reminder of how far we have come with vaccines and the importance of rabies of prevention.