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September 11, 2012 > Rabies... a worldwide threat!

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 Alameda County Vector Control, two bats tested positive for rabies on July 25, 2012 and July 31, 2012. This is the third and fourth bat infected with rabies virus in Alameda County this year.

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, and has resulted 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 bitten 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 die from rabies each year around the world, mainly in Asia and Africa - an unfortunate statistic - because with appropriate medical care, rabies in humans is 100% preventable. An even sadder fact is 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 "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 then 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.


Dr Raj Salwan is a second generation Veterinarian and has been around Veterinary Medicine for over 26 years. His interests include Internal Medicine, Surgery, Emergency/Acute Care, and general small animal practice. He currently works at American Animal Care in Fremont and can be reached via email at drsalwan@aol.com or www.americananimalcare.com.

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