WORLD RABIES DAY

Yesterday, September 28th, 2013 was World Rabies Day.  Do you know the facts about rabies virus?

Core vaccination in our dogs and cats includes vaccination against the rabies virus.  Why? Rabies is widespread throughout the world (with very few exceptions) and is always fatal if proper vaccination or post-exposure vaccination is not employed.  Many people know that rabies is dangerous and that animal bites are a vehicle for virus spread; however, there’s much more to it than that…

What does rabies look like? There are two forms of rabies – a “furious” form and a “paralytic or dumb” form.  However, some animals will show no signs of rabies other than death.  The furious form is more easily recognized and the paralytic form can be very dangerous and hard to recognize.

Furious Form

Aggression, loss of fear, circling, excessive vocalization, attraction to humans or activity, daytime activity of species normally active at night, difficulty swallowing, drooling, biting at objects or other animals

Paralytic or “Dumb” Form

Decreased activity, uncoordinated walk/mannerisms, hind limb weakness, dull.  Cats with paralytic form suddenly become excessively friendly and may meow excessively.  Lower jaw may drop and increased drool production.

What animals can be infected by rabies? Any mammal can be infected. We vaccinate our cats and dogs against rabies to not only protect our pets but also to protect the humans that live with them.  Incidentally, some county fairs require rabies vaccination for all livestock that are housed at the fair during fair week, again, based on their close proximity to the general public.

The CDC monitors rabies prevalence within the United States.  The most common wild-animal carriers by region in 2010 are pictured below: [photo courtesy of CDC.gov]

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How is rabies transmitted?  Exposure to rabies occurs when saliva or bodily fluids from a rabid animal comes in contact with another animals (or human) blood, mouth, or mucous membranes.

  • A direct bite or scratch from a contagious rabid mammal
  • Saliva or neural tissue from a contagious rabid animal contacting an open wound, breaking in the skin, or mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Virus can survive on inanimate objects for as long as it takes for the saliva to completely dry.  Sunlight will kill the virus, freezing and moisture may help preserve it.  The virus is killed by most disinfectants and there has never been a documented case of rabies transmitted to humans from an inanimate object.
  • BATS are a frequent cause of human rabies cases in the US as of 2013.  The CDC recommends that every bat found inside a building or home to be tested for rabies because people and animals can be bitten by a bat and have no idea it happened.
The following image shows the number of rabies positive raccoons tested in 2010 compared to the number tested. Notice how the east coast is bright yellow – meaning there were many positive rabid raccoons. [photo courtesy of CDC.gov]

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What do I do if my pet has been bitten? 

  1. First and foremost, do NOT get bitten trying to break up a fight between animals.  If you are bitten, clean the bite wound immediately and call your healthcare professional. 
  2. Check to make sure your pet’s rabies vaccine is up-to-date. 
  3. Be sure to try to ascertain the rabies vaccination status of the animal that did the biting.
  4. Call your veterinarian.
  • If all animals involved have current rabies vaccinations then rabies transmission is not likely. 
  • If the BITER is not vaccinated, the BITTEN pet is considered exposed.  Your pet must be seen by a veterinarian ASAP and the BITER should be monitored for 10 days for any signs of clinical rabies disease.  Once 10 days have passed and the BITER is healthy, the BITTEN is no longer considered exposed and is safe from rabies virus from the bite.
  • If the BITER is not vaccinated and the BITTEN is current on rabies vaccination, again the BITER is monitored for 10 days for signs of sickness.  If the BITER cannot be monitored for 10 days (such as the case with a wild-animal bite) then the BITTEN is considered exposed and should be quarantined for 90 days.  Rabies vaccination during the quarantine period is permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
  • If the BITER and the BITTEN are both not vaccinated for rabies, again the BITER is monitored for 10 days for signs of sickness.  If the BITER cannot be monitored for 10 days (such as the case with a wild-animal bite) then the BITTEN is considered exposed and should be quarantined for 180 days as it can take up to 6 months for rabies to incubate in a bitten animal. Rabies vaccination during the quarantine period is permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

RABIES EXPOSURE INFORMATION AND PROTOCOLS CAN BE CONFUSING.  IF YOUR PET IS POSSIBLY EXPOSED TO RABIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE FOR FURTHER DIRECTION AND CARE.

Further instructions for persons bit by a rabid animal in Pennsylvania are found here: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_24476_10297_0_43/AgWebsite/ProgramDetail.aspx?name=Rabies-Facts&navid=12&parentnavid=0&palid=129&

Can Rabies be prevented? YES! Vaccination against rabies is very effective.  By PA LAW, dogs and cats (including indoor only cats) must be vaccinated for rabies by 4 months of age and vaccination must be kept up-to-date.

Pictured below is  a 2010 surveilance map of the number of rabid cats and dogs by US region that were tested positive for rabies compared to the number tested overall.  Notice again how the east coast and PA tend to be covered in yellow – Rabies Vaccination for all pets is recommended and required by PA State Law. [photo courtesy of cdc.gov]

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Please take time today to check your pet’s rabies vaccination status.  If you do not know when they are next due for their rabies vaccination, please call your veterinarian as soon as you are able.

 If you have any further questions regarding the rabies virus or rabies vaccination protocols, please feel free to post below or call us at Animal Health Care Center of Hershey at 717-533-6745.

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