World Rabies Day: Sept. 28

When I was first asked to write about rabies, I misunderstood and started writing about babies. I have some experience in that area, having two of them currently under my roof and also being a former baby myself. Then I refocused d little bit and saw that the topic at hand was actually rabies.

World Rabies Day is this Sunday, Sept. 28 and is intended to raise awareness about rabies. Rabies is still a huge problem in many parts of the world (Africa and Asia in particular, due to the high numbers of stray dogs), and it crops up in the U.S. from time to time. Your only option, if you want to find a continent free of rabies, is currently Antarctica, which seems a might extreme. However, since it is currently 887 degrees outside and 237 percent humidity here in the Midwest, Antarctica is actually sounding pretty good right about now!

Rabies may seem like a quaint, antiquated disease that we all remember from reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s still out there and it’s vicious. Each year 55,000 people die worldwide of this dreaded disease and about 10 percent of the victims are children. The disease is nearly uniformly fatal once signs show up.

The rabies virus is diabolical — once bitten, the virus travels up the nerves until it reaches the brain. There, it sets up shop in the very part of the brain that controls emotion and pushes the shiny red “rage” button. Once pushed, animals become aggressive and more likely to bite. It also starts to reproduce in the salivary glands, which produces the classic “foaming at the mouth” vision of a rabid dog. What better way to pass on the disease to a new host than to ramp up the transmission machinery (saliva) and make the carrier prone to injecting it into the next unlucky victim through a bite? Rabid animals have literally had their brains taken over by the virus, becoming a guided missile of viral transmission. No wonder that most zombie movies use a genetically modified rabies virus as a plot point.

Here’s what you can do to improve your chances (courtesy of the CDC):

  • Make sure your pet’s rabies vaccines are current: the first vaccine is usually good for one year, and most are good for three years after that (check with your veterinarian or your local animal control for details in your area).
  • Keep away from wildlife: 90 percent of all rabies cases reported to CDC occur in wild animals, including raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. Do not feed or handle them, even if they seem friendly.
  • Avoid unfamiliar dogs and cats: They may have come into contact with wildlife and can transmit rabies.
  • If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to animal control. Symptoms include: problems swallowing or lots of drool or saliva, an animal that appears more tame than you would expect, and an animal that bites at everything.

Many of these rules apply to strange babies you may see wandering the streets, so use caution around them as well. Take note of Sept. 28 on your calendar and make an appointment today to get your pet’s rabies vaccine brought up to date — the babies are counting on you!

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