Rabies: How To Keep You and Your Pets Safe

World Rabies Day is September 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 even crops up in the U.S. from time to time. Each year 55,000 people die worldwide of this dreaded disease, and about ten percent of the victims are kids. Your only option if you want to find a continent free of rabies is currently Antarctica, which seems a bit 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 a vicious killer. The disease is nearly uniformly fatal once signs show up.

The rabies virus is diabolical – once bitten, the virus travels up nerves until it reaches the brain. There, it sets up shop in the part of the brain that controls emotion and pushes the shiny red “rage” button; animals become aggressive and far more likely to bite. It starts to reproduce in the salivary glands, which produces the classic “foaming at the mouth” version 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 lots of 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 good for one year, and most are good for three years after that (check with your vet or animal control for details in your area).
  • Avoid unfamiliar dogs and cats: They might have come into contact with wildlife that can transmit rabies.
  • Keep away from wildlife: 90 percent of all rabies cases reported to CDC occur in wild animals, including raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Don’t feed, pet or handle them, even if they look friendly.
  • If you see an animal acting oddly, report it to animal control.
    • Problems swallowing, lots of saliva
    • An animal that appears tamer than you’d expect
    • An animal that bites at everything

Take note of September 28 on your calendar and make an appointment today to get your pet’s rabies vaccine brought up-to-date!

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