September 28, 2011 marks World Rabies Day. In the Bay Area where pet vaccination is common and medical care highly accessible, you may not think twice about this fatal disease but it’s still here. In fact, the Department of Public Health has declared all counties in California as “rabies areas” in 2011 and THIS MAP shows the frequency of rabid animals reported in 2009 for the United States. Rabies hit close to home when earlier this month, a Livermore soldier died from Rabies thought to be contracted in Afghanistan and last May, a young girl from Willow Creek in Northern California contracted rabies from a feral cat.
Rabies is spread through direct contact with infected cerebral/spinal fluid or through saliva, as with a bite. First symptoms are similar to the flu and may include general weakness, fever or headache. Irritation at the bite site is common and symptoms then progress to anxiety, confusion, agitation, hallucinations and abnormal behavior. Once these clinical signs develop, the disease is nearly always fatal which is why immediate medical treatment is critical for survival.
The Center for Disease Control documents 2-3 human deaths yearly from rabies in the US however the World Health Organization estimates that 55,000 people die world wide from the disease, 40% of those being children under 15 years of age. In the US, wildlife such as bats, raccoons and skunks accounts for 92% of rabies exposure cases however internationally, dogs are the main culprits. Particularly in areas where feral or stray dog populations are high and medical care is hard to find or simply unaffordable. You can thank America’s mass vaccination protocols for companion animals and livestock for keeping rabies fatalities so low in comparison to the rest of the world. Wide availability of post-exposure vaccinations is the second factor keeping us safe from rabies and an estimated 40,000 of these injections are given each year in the US.
All of this should be reason enough to keep your canine companions current on their shots and for you to avoid handling wildlife but education is also critical. World Rabies Day is about bringing awareness to this horrible and preventable disease with the hope of eradicating it. Make sure you speak to your family, friends and neighbors, particularly children about the dangers of rabies, how to prevent it and what to do if they think they’ve been exposed.
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