When you think about infectious disease what comes to mind? The flu bug? SARS? Salmonella or E coli food poisoning?
How about Rabies?
Other than keeping your dog or cat vaccinated, you probably don’t think about it. But Rabies is a worldwide concern to both the animal AND the human population. Rabies is a virus that attacks the nervous system and has the highest fatality ratio of ANY infectious disease if not properly treated. It killed 55,000 people last year, with 6 cases in the US. According to the World Health Organization it is found in 150 countries.
Most people if they think of rabies, think of the movie “Ol Yeller”. Rabies turned a loyal family dog into Cujo. Poor dog. Not all animals present with classic signs of aggression, sometimes they drool or are not able to pick up food to eat or swallow. My senior year in vet school I had a German Shepherd dog come in with generalized weakness and GI signs. It died without good explanation. The autopsy results were not conclusive. Luckily the neurologist ordered rabies testing. We were shocked when it came back positive and all humans exposed to the dog were treated.
Because we live in a stable civil society and have a functioning public health system, most of us won’t ever recognize a rabid animal. But rabies is here in Wisconsin. Did you know a man in Reedsburg contracted the disease and died from it November 2000? In Wisconsin we mainly find the rabies virus in bats. In 2011, the state had 21 cases of diagnosed rabies, 18 bats, 3 skunk. There were no domestic animal cases last year but that is unusual. The eastern US sees more Raccoon and Fox rabies. The south sees a lot of all variants. Dogs, cats, cattle and horses are most commonly infected when we see domestic animal cases. Wildlife and domestic animals transmit it through their saliva to humans.
How can you best protect yourself? Keep your pets vaccinated as bats will be the most likely transmitter. Report any animal bites that you suffer to your physician ASAP. Try not to have contact with bats. If you find one in your house dead or alive call the public health department for further instruction. We don’t need to be scared of Rabies, we just need to use common sense.