World Rabies Day 2011 was on Sept. 28. I do realize that this year’s rabies day has come and gone before I got the chance to write about it. However, it is never too late to emphasize the importance of rabies public awareness. World Rabies Day emphasizes the importance of vaccinations for pets, caution around wild animals, and control of feral cat and dog populations. The Kentucky Department for Public Health, local health departments, veterinarians and the Alliance for Rabies Control are working together to promote the Sept. 28 as the annual World Rabies Day.
Collectively, on this day each year, these groups and individuals try to focus attention on rabies, a dangerous and life threatening, but preventable disease. Rabies is a virus that causes inflammation of the brain or encephalitis in mammals.
The name rabies was derived from Latin meaning madness, rage or fury. Rabies has been around for a very long time. The first written record of rabies was in 1930 B.C. Any mammal can be infected with the virus, including humans. It is most commonly contracted by a bite from an infected animal, but occasionally by other forms of contact. The virus travels to the brain from the infected site by following along the nerves.
Typically, it takes a few months for the virus to travel from the infection site to the brain. Essentially, once the virus reaches the brain, treatment is useless and the affected mammal will die. Treatment is only effective if exposure is known and treatment is initiated before clinical signs begin.
It is estimated that more than 55,000 people around the world die from rabies each year. Worldwide, more people die from rabies than polio, diphtheria and yellow fever combined. The rabies virus is widespread throughout the world with only a few countries that are free of rabies. Rabies was once rare in the United States, but raccoons have been suffering from a rabies epidemic since the 1970s. Other wild animals such as skunks and bats are common carriers of rabies and compose the majority of non-human cases in the United States.
Additionally, bats are responsible for most human cases of rabies in the U.S. Other animals such as monkeys, fox, cattle, wolves, groundhogs, weasels and other wild carnivores may become infected with rabies and pose a risk to humans. Rodents (mice, squirrels, etc.) are seldom infected. However in some rare and unusual cases, rabies is known to have been transmitted between humans by transplant surgeries. In these cases, the organ donor had been infected and died of rabies without doctors’ knowledge.
Symptoms for rabies can range from the typical hyperactive, aggressive, salivating, and difficulty swallowing to a condition often seen in wild animals known as “dumb rabies.” With this condition the animal appears unusually tame and generally lethargic. Therefore, you should never approach any wild animal regardless of their state of mind.
Also, anytime someone has been bitten by either a wild or domestic animal, it should be reported immediately to the local health department. Anytime your pet has been bitten by a wild animal, you should check with your veterinarian to determine the proper protocol for treatment.
Obviously, despite the efforts of healthcare officials and veterinarians, rabies is thriving. Rabies can be prevented by vaccination. Pre-exposure (before being exposed) and post-exposure (after being exposed) vaccines are available for humans. Traditionally, pre-exposure vaccines have been given only to those who are at greater risk such as veterinarians, veterinary clinic employees and animal shelter employees. Post-exposure vaccines are given to anyone exposed to an animal that is suspected of having rabies.
Primarily, our efforts are designed to ensure that the public understands that rabies is a serious public health concern and we need to do everything we possibly can to prevent it.
It is extremely important to have all dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated against rabies and to control stray cats and dogs in our local community by not setting food out for stray animals.
Additionally, the Clark County Health Department, the Clark County Animal Shelter and local veterinarians are planning a rabies clinic in which anyone interested can show up at the animal shelter on the selected date to have their pets vaccinated against rabies by veterinarians.
Watch closely in the Winchester Sun for the date and time to have your pet properly vaccinated and to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.