Rabies. Although it is a common known virus, very few of us in Maine have ever worried about actually contracting it. Thanks to medical advances since the late 1800’s the United States has been able to control this deadly disease. September 28th is World Rabies Day so it seemed appropriate to take some time and reflect on how far we have come in controlling rabies and how far we still need to go.
A Brief History of the Global Fight Against Rabies:
Before the rabies vaccine was developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur, very little could be done about rabies. The first recorded case was in 2000 BC. Doctors used to simply cut off the bite origin in an attempt to prevent the spread of the “poison.” However, it was highly ineffective and most patients eventually showed signs of malaise, headache, fever, pain and seizures.
Rabies is still an ever present threat. Each year 55,000 humans die worldwide from rabies. Most of these deaths are in Asia and Africa and 97% are result of dog bites. In the United States that statistic is very different. Thanks to a successful campaign to vaccinate dogs against rabies only 8% of all rabid animals reported in 2010 were domestic species. However, within that 8% there is a startling trend developing.
For the last five years the number of rabid cats has outnumber rabid dogs by over 300%. During this same time in Maine, cats have ranked consistently the 4th most prevalent carrier of rabies behind raccoons, bats and foxes. More and more news headlines are reading “Kitten rescued found rabies positive”.
Why should you be concerned? You and your pets might be at risk.
Cats are frequently in close contact with both humans and wild animals; especially wild animals that are rabies carriers. Indoor cats may try to catch a rabid bat, but outdoor cats are likely to get into scuffles with neighborhood raccoons that scavengers. Cats are also three times less likely to go to a veterinarian. Thus, many of them have not been properly vaccinated, putting them and you at risk.
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your pets and others from rabies is to vaccinate your pets against it. It is also important for adults and children to learn bite prevention when interacting with pets. If you suspect an animal is rabid in your area please call your local animal control officer. To learn more about World Rabies Day visit their website at: http://www.worldrabiesday.org/