By: Naomi Hedrick, Veterinary Technician
As someone working in the veterinary field, I can tell you that there aren’t too many animal-related things that scare us. But there is one word that can stop us all in our tracks. The Big Bad, Grand-daddy fear of them all…rabies. Now, I know some of you are thinking that this is a pretty heavy topic for September’s blog. The kids are back in school, football is on TV, and pumpkin everything is coming. Good times! The reason for such a serious topic is that September 28th is World Rabies Day. Co-sponsored by the CDC and the Alliance for Rabies Control (ARC), this date is a global health observance that seeks to raise awareness about rabies and enhance prevention and control efforts. It’s been celebrated in the U.S. and many other countries since 2007. In honor of this, I thought it would be a good idea to address the topic of rabies and perhaps answer any questions you may have in regards to this deadly and deadly serious disease.
Rabies is found on every continent right now which means that no matter where you go, you have a chance of encountering an animal with rabies. So let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of what rabies is, how it is transmitted, and what the clinical signs and symptoms are. Rabies is a virus, specifically a rhabdovirus, that is relatively unstable in the environment and that can affect the central nervous system of any mammal. The usual suspects for rabies are raccoons, coyotes, skunks, bats, and foxes, with the raccoon being the most commonly affected mammal in the Eastern United States.
The most common method of transmission is through the saliva of an infected animal – typically from a bite, but there are cases of transmission via inhalation of infected particles and organ transplants with infected tissue. Once in the body, the virus incubates for a few months to up to a year while it slowly travels up the nervous tissue to the brain. After reaching the brain, the virus quickly starts replicating in vast quantities and spreads to the salivary glands first, and then to other tissues. At this point, symptoms begin to show and treatment becomes impossible.
Infected animals may exhibit two forms of rabies. Dumb rabies presents with paralysis or loss of coordination. Animals infected with furious rabies (think Cujo) will show aggression, lack of fear, or excitability. Furious rabies may then progress into dumb rabies. Once animals enter into the dumb rabies phase they will eventually lapse into a coma and die. Onset of symptoms to death usually takes 1 to 10 days. Once symptoms start to show, in us and in animals, it is nearly impossible to treat. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, which has some great information on their website, says that only “1-3 individuals are thought to have survived in recent years”. Not very good odds.
But there is good news. Prevention has been successful in domestic animals through vaccination and through limiting contact with wild life. For those of you, like me, who have indoor only cats, you might wonder about the need for the vaccine. My cats never go outside, but twice in the last 2 years I have had bats get into the house. Also, it’s the law in Cumberland County. “All dogs and non-feral cats 3 months of age and older must be vaccinated against rabies”. What all of this boils down to is to get your pet regularly vaccinated against rabies and try your best to limit their contact with wildlife and other animals of unknown vaccine history. Because with rabies, prevention is really the name of the game.
If your pet is overdue for a rabies vaccine, give us a call at 714-697-4481 to schedule an appointment.