Have you ever wondered why we have laws about rabies? On the surface, it seems odd to have such strict laws about one particular virus and the vaccine associated with it. Did you know that if you contract Rabies it is essentially 100% fatal?
We think of Rabies coming from a big, snarly, drooling dog like the Saint Bernard from the movie Cujo. We think that if we don’t have contact with something that dramatic, we have nothing to worry about. The reality is that it is more often seen in common mammals that live in our own backyards.
According to the CDC, about 5,000 cases are reported annually in the US, with 90% of those cases associated with wildlife including bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks. In the early 1900s most human cases were contracted from dog bites, but now, most human cases in the U.S. are from exposure to a dog while traveling internationally or wildlife exposure, with bats representing the most common wild animal causing human exposure.
The Reality of Rabies
Here’s a little story about rabies from my own family. I am a veterinarian. I know rabies exists. My own mother’s dog was exposed to rabies in late 2019! Yep, her “vicious” 4lb teacup poodle named Sissy was found with a live bat in her mouth in the backyard. My mom lives in a typical American suburb and has lived in the same house for the past 20 years. This has never happened before! And, guess what? Sissy was 6 days overdue for her rabies vaccine. Only 6 days…this was only the second time Sissy was slightly late for her rabies vaccine in the past 10 years.
The bat was picked up by animal control and reported to be positive to my family the next day. Sissy and her canine housemate, Sugar, had to be quarantined and re-vaccinated immediately as well as intermittently vaccinated throughout their quarantine. Sissy was required to be quarantined for 90 days. Sugar was quarantined for 45 days due to being current on her vaccine at the time of potential exposure.
Admittedly, this was a very scary and frustrating time for my family. All because of a silly bat, a silly dog and a fatal disease called Rabies. Luckily, both dogs as well as everyone in the family are fine. However, this could have gone much differently if my mom hadn’t taken quick and safe action when she saw Sissy with the bat in her mouth. She trapped the bat without touching it and immediately called me and animal control for further instructions.
We have seen a significant decline in human deaths caused by Rabies. In the early 1900s, about 100 per year were reported. Since the 1960s, we see an average of about 2 per year. This significant decline in cases can be attributed to laws requiring domesticated pets be vaccinated, creating public rabies awareness, the development of post-exposure vaccines and prompt action when bitten or deeply scratched by an animal. With September 28th as World Rabies Day, the work continues to educate and protect communities around the world.
So, the next time you get that reminder from your pet’s veterinarian about a rabies vaccine being due, don’t delay! You could be saving your pet’s life, your own life and are definitely saving yourself a world of frustration and costs.
Stay safe and act quickly…know these fast facts about Rabies:
- Keep your pet up to date with Rabies vaccines. The law varies by location, so ask your veterinarian.
- Rabies is carried only by mammals (bats, raccoons, foxes, cats, dogs) and is transmitted through blood and saliva.
- If you see an animal known to carry Rabies acting abnormally or in contact with your pet, call animal control immediately. Do not handle the wild animal or risk getting bit yourself.
- If you or your pet has been exposed, contact your personal health care provider and your veterinarian for guidance immediately. Time is critical after exposure to prevent infection and death!