World Rabies Day by Heather Redmon, DVM, Madera Veterinary Hospital
Rabies. An ancient disease known and feared for at least 4 millennia, rabies is still deadly and is a major human health concern around the world. The 10th World Rabies Day is September 28, 2016 and is used to help educate people about the virus and its prevention.
In the United States, the virus is most often found in our wildlife populations. The most common wildlife species to carry rabies in North America are the skunk, fox, bat, raccoon, and coyote. Domestic animals can also transmit rabies. After a bite from an infected animal, the rabies virus attacks the nervous system. The disease is almost invariably fatal once symptoms begin. However, the incidence of rabies in humans in developed countries has dramatically decreased in recent decades due to education, widespread vaccination of domestic animals, and post-exposure vaccination of people. The vaccine is highly effective if given soon after potential exposure, but once symptoms start, it is too late.
A common misconception is that indoor animals cannot be exposed to rabies. Bats, the main carriers of the disease in the United States, can gain access to indoor areas and infect pets and people. In October 2015, a Wyoming woman died from rabies after being bitten by a bat while sleeping. Bat bites are extremely small and may go unnoticed. In most human rabies cases, a bite was never reported.
In other countries, it is estimated that 90% of human rabies cases are caused by dog bites. If bitten by a stray dog or cat in a foreign country where the rabies virus exists, it is imperative to seek treatment immediately.
- Pima County requires all dogs to be vaccinated and licensed.
- The first rabies vaccine in dogs is good for 1 year and subsequent ones are good for 3 years.
- Rabies vaccines in cats are good for 1-3 years, depending on the type of vaccine.
- If an unvaccinated pet is bitten by a rabid animal, the pet must be quarantined for 6 months at an approved facility or euthanized.
- The incubation period is 14-60 days. Once symptoms begin, death occurs within 10 days.
- 40,000 Americans receive rabies shots each year.
- Report any potential exposure and seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not ever handle bats (dead or alive) or other wild mammals. Bats can die from rabies mid-flight and fall to the ground.