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January 7, 2011 > Veterinary & Pet News: Rabies... A Worldwide Threat

Veterinary & Pet News: Rabies... A Worldwide Threat

Rabies! Instantly we picture a wild animal or even a domestic dog, foam slathering from its mouth as it prepares to attack. This killer virus raises its head every year always waiting for an opportunity to strike. Modern medicine has come close to eradicating this disease, but it's not gone yet!

According to the Alameda County Vector Control, a dead bat was found in the parking lot of Ohlone College, and tested positive for rabies a few weeks ago. This is the third bat infected with rabies virus in Alameda County in 2010. Furthermore, there is a dramatic increase in rabid bats in Los Angeles County this year from an average of 10 bats testing positive every year to 21 testing positive in 2010.

Rabies virus acquired from bats has caused most human rabies cases in California. Bats are the leader in transmission of rabies to humans, followed by skunks, then foxes, and finally cats and dogs, which are very rare.

Of all diseases known to man, rabies is perhaps one of the scariest and most fatal diseases. Rabies has caused panic and fear of animals by humans, resulting in severe dog phobias. These phobias are most prevalent in immigrant communities from Asia and Africa, who have witnessed rabid dogs who've gone wild and bit individuals.

In North America, we are extremely lucky. Vaccinations have practically eliminated the threat of rabies from our domestic animals.

Ongoing programs using oral rabies vaccines for wildlife are attempting to halt the spread of rabies among raccoons, skunks and foxes.

According to the Alliance for Rabies Control, 55,000 people around the world die from rabies each year, mainly in Asia and Africa - an unfortunate statistic - because with appropriate medical care, rabies in humans is 100% preventable.

An even sadder fact is that a large percentage of deaths are children. More than 100 children die from rabies worldwide every day. Overall, one person is killed by this disease every 10 minutes!

Rabies is a viral disease that can affect any warm-blooded animal; however, our close association with dogs brings this killer home to our families.

After development of an effective vaccination program for our pets and a post-exposure rabies vaccine for people, rabies cases in humans began to drop significantly in Western countries.

Within the last decade, less than three-dozen people have died from rabies in the United States. The majority of these deaths were attributable to bat or dog bites from outside the United States. This dramatic decrease has prompted the CDC to announce canine rabies is "extinct" in the U.S.

"There are many people today who remember rabid dogs in the streets of their neighborhoods," says Dr. Sandy Norman, a veterinarian with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. She warns that pet owners should continue vaccinating their pets, especially in light of the CDC announcement.

"It is only through continued vigilance that we will maintain that status," she says. "There is a huge reservoir of rabies among wildlife and it is not unimaginable that those strains could infect our pets."

Additionally, world travel could allow someone to unknowingly bring home a rabid pet. Recently, several British animal rescuers underwent prophylactic rabies vaccines. A puppy imported from Sri Lanka bit all of them and later, was found to be rabid.

Here in the United States, more than 20,000 prophylactic doses of human rabies vaccines are given annually.

Keeping yourself safe from rabies is easy by following a few simple steps:

First, have your pet vaccinated at four months of age for rabies. Then, repeat the vaccination in a year, and every three years thereafter.

Second, avoid contact with wildlife. Rabies still exists in wild animals. Never attempt to remove a wild animal from your property without professional help.

Be especially wary of bats. Most human rabies cases in North America are the result of a bat bite.

Finally, the Alliance asks that you tell your friends how rabies impacts lives around the world. Encourage neighbors and fellow pet owners to vaccinate all of their pets.

Rabies can be controlled and potentially even eliminated in many parts of the world.

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