September 25, 2016
by Ellen F. Houser
September 28, 2016 marks the 10th World Rabies Day. This commemoration was established in 2007 and takes place each year on the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur. Pasteur, along with his colleagues, developed the first rabies vaccine in 1885. Until then, almost all cases of rabies were fatal. World Rabies Day promotes education, prevention, and elimination of the disease [wikipedia.org].
Rabies is an acute viral infection affecting the nervous system that is usually transmitted to humans via the saliva of an infected animal through a bite [health.pa.gov]. According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes tens of thousands of human deaths each year, mostly in Africa and Asia. Forty percent of people bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under the age of 15. Worldwide, dogs are the source of the vast majority (99%) of the human rabies deaths every year. In North and South America, bats are the source of most rabies deaths among people [who.int].
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported that since 1960, many more animal rabies cases in the United States involved wildlife (93%) than domestic animals (7%). The most recent AVMA rabies summary statistics reveal that in 2014, there were 6,033 rabid animals documented in the U.S. The most commonly infected wildlife were, in order: raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes. AVMA also said that more than half of all rabid domestic animals reported in 2014 were found in five states: New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia [avma.org].
The Pennsylvania Department of Health maintains monthly and yearly tallies of animal rabies cases reported. The number often peaks in August of each year.
Dogs and cats are natural hunters and can be exposed to rabies through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Pet owners can help control rabies by following common-sense guidelines like keeping immunizations current and using a leash when in public. Even indoor-only cats must be vaccinated against rabies, because they can easily slip outside through an open door. Moreover, bats are able to squeeze into buildings through narrow slits and cracks. Bats usually prefer an accessible outdoor roost, so providing a bat box in early summer can keep them from trying to move into your home and can also cut down on insect pests. Bat proofing should be done between November and March [batmanagement.com].
The Pennsylvania rabies law stipulates that “Every person living in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who owns or keeps a dog or cat over 3 months of age, must have the dog or cat vaccinated against rabies.” Owners of non-vaccinated pets may be fined up to $300 plus court costs [animallaw.info/statute/pa-rabies].
Centre County PAWS provides valuable preventive care and treatment for dogs and cats prior to adoption. In addition to being spayed or neutered, each dog or cat is vaccinated against rabies and other diseases as appropriate.
Remember, though, that one shot is not enough. Rabies and other vaccinations must be kept up to date, so talk to your veterinarian about when your pets need rabies booster shots and other inoculations. Protect your family, yourself, your companion animals, and your community by keeping your pets’ immunizations current.