What Can be Done to Prevent Rabies
Every individual pet owner may help to prevent rabies in his community by doing the following:
- Have your dog or cat routinely vaccinated. Safe and effective vaccines, which give your pet maximum protection against rabies, are available from your veterinarian. To ensure continued maximum protection, follow your veterinarian's advice and observe your local rabies control regulations.
- Obey leash and licensing laws in your community.
- Report stray dogs to the local animal services officer.
- Do not keep wild animals for pets. There is no rabies vaccine licensed or proven safe and effective for use in wild animals.
- Teach your children to avoid strange animals, especially wild animals. This is especially true when you are camping.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease of man and other animals. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system and, if the disease is not prevented, causes the death of its victim.
Rabies is usually transmitted from animals to man by a bite from the rabid animal. The wound is contaminated with the virus found in the saliva of the infected animal. Usually, the signs of rabies develop within 2 weeks to 3 months after the bite has been incurred. However if the bite has been on the head or face and is of a severe nature, signs of the disease may manifest themselves in as few as 10 days.
Although today rabies seldom results in human fatalities in the United States, it remains a potentially dangerous public health problem. Each year, more than 20,000 Americans have to undergo anti-rabies treatments as a result of exposure to "rabid" animals. Through conscientious efforts by state and local health agencies, the incidence of rabies continues to decline in domestic animals. Even so, since 1980 more than 6,000 cases of animal rabies are confirmed every year in this country.
All warm-blooded animals can transmit rabies. The majority of the animal rabies cases in the United States are found in wildlife, particularly in skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, and in domestic farm animals. Among domestic pets, dogs and cats are the most commonly infected species. Therefore, every pet owner has the responsibility of helping to prevent rabies outbreaks. This responsibility includes cooperating with community-sponsored rabies control programs, understanding the basic signs of rabies and knowing what to do if bitten by a pet, stray, or wild animal.
What to do if Bitten?
Anyone who is bitten should immediately wash the wound with soap and large quantities of water and follow a physician's advice. An assessment of the risk of rabies must be made, often with a veterinarian's input.
There are several situations in which anti-rabies treatment is imperative. Obviously, if the bite has come from an animal known to have rabies or having certain suggestive signs, the physician may consider anti-rabies treatment mandatory. Anti-rabies treatment may also be considered essential if the animal causing the injury is unavailable for observation or laboratory testing. If, however, the bite was provoked or caused by an animal ordinarily not associated with with rabies, such as rodents or rabbits, or occurred in an area where rabies is rarely a problem, anti-rabies treatement may not be necessary. High risk individuals should receive pre-exposure vaccinations from their physician.
Under the rabies control laws of most communities, a dog or cat that bites a person must be confined and observed for 10 days following the day of the bite. If signs of the disease appear while the animal is quarantined, the animal should be euthanized and tested for rabies. Wild animals that bite people should be killed immediately and submitted for a laboratory examination. If positive, anti-rabies treatment is initiated promptly.
This information is provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 930 North Meacham Road, Schaumburg, IL 60196