Very few diseases instill fear in a pet owner as quickly as rabies. As soon as I hear the word I immediately think of the movie "Old Yeller" and how much it traumatized me as a little kid. The sight of his dog frothing at the mouth and behaving in such an aggressive manner was downright scary. I couldn't imagine my own dog behaving in that way!
Rabies, also known as encephalitis, is a viral disease that affects mammals, causing inflammation in the brain. It is spread from bites wounds other animals such as bats, skunks and raccoons. Encephalitis travels from the site of the wound, through the nervous system, and eventually to the brain where it does the most damage. Early symptoms are fever, lethargy, decreased energy and no appetite. Rabies can be treated prior to reaching the brain, but it is fatal once it has time to spread. It can take anywhere from two to six weeks for the virus to spread to the brain.
More than 55 000 people die of rabies every year, mostly in Asia and Africa; dogs are the source of the vast majority of human rabies deaths. The risk is so great that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that “unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released.” The most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people is by eliminating rabies in dogs through vaccination. Luckily, instances of rabies in pets are on the decline thanks to vaccinations. In 2010, 48 states and Puerto Rico reported 6,153 cases of rabies in animals and 2 human cases to CDC; that’s down 8% from the year before.
Dog.com had a write up on their website about World Rabies Day. It’s a holiday to help educate pet owners on ways to prevent and eradicate rabies. Volunteers gather on this day to teach the public about what rabies is, how it can be avoided and how it can be treated. So far over the past five years, World Rabies Day has been popular as its message is spread. Unfortunately, World Rabies Day was two or so weeks ago and I missed it…bummer! Doesn’t mean that rabies awareness is any less important any other day of the year though, right?