Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rabies Articles and a Marylander Dies of Rabies Today

In the last few weeks at the clinic we have been on rabies alert.

As fate always seems to hand it to us we have seen a number of unvaccinated, or unknown if vaccinated, cats come in with wounds. (More on this soon).

The law requires that every dog, cat, and ferret be vaccinated for rabies.

Now it is important that everyone reading this understand that this is the LAW, not my law, not the clinics law, but the federal law. Before we all go on some tirade tangent about whether the government has the right, or you have the desire to mandate such things, let me remind everyone what rabies is.

Rabies is fatal.

Not the "get sick, feel feverish, have a few days off from work and stay in bed" kind of sick, but the "you die" kind of sick. So lets just move past the "I don't like to get told what to do," feeling and move onto the reason and intent of the law.

Rabies is a virus found in the continental U.S. that is spread primarily by the saliva from affected animals. Many of us in the veterinary (and other animal related fields) are vaccinated with pre-exposure rabies vaccines. These series of shots are available through your health care provider or your local health department. They are not cheap, they are not just 1 shot, and they often make you feel a bit under the weather after each one, but they may save your life. I require (and pay for) every one of my technicians and kennel staff to be vaccinated. It costs me about $500 per employee, but I also understand that rabies is alive and present in my community. So the cost is worth the ease of mind.

I have heard about every reason in the book for why clients don't vaccinate. It is one of the occasions that I want to produce my own public service announcement, grab my soapbox and start my oratory tirade. I would like to get together all of the citizens of Maryland who have either lost a loved one to rabies, had to undergo the post-exposure vaccines, or had to put down their pet because they weren't vaccinated and were exposed to a rabid animal, so they collectively can provide their personal experience to demonstrate to all of the rest of us how devastating and disastrous it can be to not vaccinate. The consequences of not vaccinating are equivalent to those t.v. commercials where the teenager confesses to killing his best friend because he was drinking and driving or driving and texting. That $5 to 15 dollar vaccine is never worth the risk of not vaccinating. And if you think that this is a scare tactic well then I will admit that I am trying to scare you. I am trying to scare you so that you will protect yourself, your family, and your pets. Protect them from a fatal disease that IS all around us.

OK, let's talk about some of the excuses I hear for NOT vaccinating;
  1. "My pet never goes outside." OK, this usually isn't the whole truth. Even the cats that truly don't go outside are exposed to creatures that can enter your house and may carry rabies..
  2. Rabies doesn't happen around here. OK, keep reading and look at the number of cases in your state, and learn more about rabies at 
  3. My pet has been vaccinated before. Well this one is a sticky one. If your pet is not current on their rabies vaccine then we have to try to guess how long is too long, and all of that guessing and fretting is not worth the cost. So, here is the general guidelines.
The first rabies vaccine is given to every dog, cat, and ferret for the first time between the ages of 3 and 4 months old. The next vaccine (in most cases) is given a year later and lasts for three years. Livestock is vaccinated based on their interaction with people.

Any pet that has a potential exposure to wildlife, for instance has gotten into a fight or been in contact with a wild animal should be boosted immediately with a rabies vaccine.

For more information on rabies see the CDC's website.

And just in case this isnt enough fuel to light your paranoid fire (mine is always lit with respect to rabies), there is an article today in the Baltimore Sun that reads, "Marylander dies from rabies in first case since 1976."

Here is another article I read a few months ago.

By Amanda James The News and Observer

A confirmed incident of rabies this week involving a Garner dog brings the total number of cases of the potentially fatal disease up to at least 16 this year in Wake County. That’s an increase from last year.

“It’s an example of why it’s so important to keep your animals vaccinated,” said Carl Williams, state veterinarian with the N.C. Division of Public Health. 

North Carolina laws are relatively stringent about mandating rabies vaccinations for house pets, Williams said. The owner of every dog, cat or ferret is required to keep the animal vaccinated.

“It’s like the speed limit,” said Williams. “Not everyone follows it, but it’s the law.”

When officials first learned of the rabid dog Monday, it was taken to the state lab in Raleigh for testing. It was euthanized. State law requires potentially rabid pets to be destroyed unless owners agree to support a six-month quarantine, according to Wake health services.

Four people who were exposed to the dog have begun a series of treatments, Wake officials said. The process requires four treatments over the next 14 days.

The canine case is the second confirmed report of rabies this week in Wake, after a rabid fox was reported in Cary on Sunday. Residents first observed the fox behaving oddly and reported it to animal control officers, who performed lab tests and confirmed rabies.

Though exposure to rabies can be fatal, increased vaccination requirements and advances in treatment have kept death rates low across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control reports an average of just two or three deaths each year.

The key is getting treatment.

“If you’re not treated and develop clinical symptoms, you will most likely die,” said wildlife researcher Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf.

More than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control now occur in wildlife. Principal hosts are wild carnivores and bats.

In Wake, bats have been the most common carrier of rabies this year, in six of the 16 cases.
The number of confirmed cases for other Triangle counties this year include nine in Chatham County and five in Johnston County.

Rabies does not look the same in every case and may not always fulfill the stereotype of an animal foaming at the mouth, Kennedy-Stoskopf said.

In some cases, a dog may just look disoriented, stagger and not appear to be aware of its surroundings.

“People see an animal that appears that way and say, ‘let me help this animal’... and that’s how they get exposed to it,” Kennedy-Stoskopf said.

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