September 28 is World Rabies Day

rabies clinic
Elementary teachers participating in the CARe Project at the island of El Nido, Palawan, Philippines.

It’s not so long ago that rabid animals, especially roaming dogs because they were pets who came into the home and were part of everyday life with humans, presented a great health peril in this country from infection with rabies. Many people died from the disease before treatment was available—a bite would transmit the disease to another animal or human, and without treatment both would die from the effects of the disease in very short order.

But today in the United States we are fairly safe from this disease that is 100% preventable with a vaccine given to our pets, livestock, and even wild animals. In fact, in many states the rabies vaccine for your pet is the law. Because the rabies vaccine is so commonly given to our pets we may take for granted that rabies is hardly a threat except for the occasional bat or raccoon or unfortunate stray dog or cat. Rabid dogs used to be common in the United States but since the vaccine was developed and is widely used for pets, the idea of our pets contracting rabies and turning against us is so horrible it became the inspiration for Stephen King’s novel Cujo, and the whole premise of the novel is quite real and factual.

This is one reason you’ll see low-cost rabies clinics offered within communities for cats and dogs by shelters and rescue groups. It’s also why a rabies vaccine is often part of the protocol in trap-neuter-return programs, or TNR, for cats living outdoors. Currently, stray cats and cats living in communities outdoors through TNR programs are under attack for spreading rabies, though a CDC study reports “human deaths from rabies are rare in the United States — two or three a year — and there have been no deaths linked to cats in decades.”

rabies vaccine bait
The baited rabies vaccine for raccoons used by the Allegheny County Health Department (courtesy).

We still need to be aware and be cautious. My home state of Pennsylvania is always in the top 5 and  in 2010 had the distinction of having the most reported cases of domestic rabies of all 50 states: between January 1 and May 30 of 2011, 114 raccoons, 18 skunks, 15 foxes and 12 cats tested positive for rabies in the state, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In June 2011, A dog tangled with a rabid raccoon on the trail where I regularly ride my bike, walk, photograph and paint. The dog was fine because he’d had his rabies vaccine. You can read a wealth of rabies statistics about Pennsylvania on the PA Department of Agriculture’s website.

A current rabies vaccine for pets is the law in Pennsylvania, and in Allegheny County where I live, the Health Department sets out baited food with the rabies vaccine for raccoons in areas they are known to travel, or those numbers might be even higher.

rabies in india
A World Rabies Day celebration in India, photo courtesy Global Alliance for Rabies Control.

Other countries around the world are not so lucky as we are. More than 55,000 people still die every day from infection with rabies because the vaccine isn’t available or isn’t widely used, and worst of all, in countries where there is little or no humane law, available veterinary care or capacity for spaying and neutering pets, rabies prevention turns into mass round-ups and killings of dogs, especially, to prevent an outbreak. A recent NewYork Times article cited 20,000 people per year die from rabies in India alone because of the millions of stray dogs and laws based in Hindu beliefs against killing animals, The Global Alliance for Rabies Control in a collaborative project with the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) is working on a combined contraceptive and rabies vaccine for dogs and many other animals where rabies is frequent and safe spay and neuter is not readily available as well as a field test for rabies so that an animal does not need to be killed in order to be tested for the disease.

rabies-donate_dogWorld Rabies Day since 2007 has worked all over the globe to both raise awareness of the dangers and prevention of rabies and helped to make the vaccine available for animals and treatment for infected humans, with the ultimate goal of controlling rabies in animals to prevent it in humans. Since they began inviting agencies to participate in the effort, “every major human and animal health partner at the international, national, state/provincial, and local levels as well as veterinary, medical and other specialized professional and student organizations, corporate and non-profit partners”.

Check your pets’ records and make sure their rabies shots are up to date, and if not, make an appointment. Visit the website for World Rabies Day to read more about what’s happening around the world today.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control is located in Manhattan, Kansas. You can help the effort to stop the spread of rabies by making a donation.



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