To most of us, the thought of rabies is very frightening; however, we probably don’t anticipate that it could happen to anyone we know.  Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.  Most of the rabies cases that are reported to the Centers for Disease Control each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats.   The central nervous system is infected by the rabies virus, ultimately causing disease in the brain, and death.  Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of several other illnesses, including headache, fever, and general weakness or discomfort.  As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include anxiety, insomnia, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, increase in saliva, difficulty in swallowing, hydrophobia (fear of water).  Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.  

Wednesday, September 28th, marks the fifth annual World Rabies Day, an international event created to help raise rabies awareness and save lives.  Although major efforts to eradicate the virus have been made, rabies remains a major concern worldwide, killing more than 55,000 people every year, mainly in Africa and Asia.  (This is at the rate of one person every ten minutes).  In the U.S., one to two people die annually from the virus.  In 2010, more than 6,000 U.S. cases of rabies in animals were reported, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

This is a very serious disease that mainly affects wild animals, as stated before.  Signs of rabid behavior are foaming at the mouth (mad form), and in livestock (down form), in which they appear very lethargic.  There are more and more wild animals, such as foxes and coyotes that are moving nearer to populated areas in order to obtain food and water.  Our domestic pets should be vaccinated against rabies in case they become exposed to wildlife.  We should be vigilant about not putting our pets in situations that would bring them in contact with other animals. 

Many things that you can do to protect your pets include:

  • Take your pet to your vet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs.
  • Maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and dogs under close supervision.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for, or vaccinated regularly.
  • Call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood, in case these animals are unvaccinated or sick. 

Wildlife are more likely than domestic animals in the U.S. to carry rabies; however, the amount of human contact with domestic animals greatly exceeds the amount of contact with wildlife.  If your pet is infected when bitten by rabid wild animals, the risk to humans is increased.  Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care, so call your doctor immediately.   Should your animal be bitten by any wild animal, call the vet immediately, so your pet can be revaccinated and monitored.   Animal control should find the sick animal and hold it for observation, if possible.  Cleanse the area of the bite on a person with soap and water as soon as possible.  Newer vaccines today cause fewer adverse reactions than in the past.  Persons should renew their tetanus shot every ten years. 

If you notice a nocturnal animal staggering around during the day, (such as a skunk), chances are the animal is sick.  Call animal control so they can trap it and determine if it is rabid.  Be a responsible pet owner, and keep your animals safe by getting their shots on a regular schedule.  You’ll not only be protecting them, but the persons they are around, as well.