Even though it is 100 percent preventable, rabies still claims the lives of more than 55,000 people around the world each year. Though the majority of these deaths are outside the U.S., there have recently been reports of rabies deaths close to home.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that three people in the United States have died from rabies in the past year [view article]: In August, a U.S. soldier contracted the virus, presumably while deployed in Afghanistan, and later died. Also this summer, a Mexican migrant worker died from a vampire bat rabies virus variant. In late 2010, a Wisconsin man was admitted to the hospital and by the time doctors were able to determine it was rabies that was making him sick, it was too late.
The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) is joining organizations around the globe in support of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28, an annual event created to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of rabies prevention. World Rabies Day reinforces the message that although rabies is a preventable disease, it still kills thousands of people and pets worldwide needlessly each year.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to animals and humans. The disease is transmitted mainly by bite, but exposure may also occur through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva from an infected animal. Once neurological symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans. The good news is that rabies is easily preventable.
How prevalent is rabies?
Over the last decade, an average of 46 animal cases of rabies have been reported annually in Ohio. As of August, the Ohio Department of Health had 24 reported animal cases of rabies documented for 2011. The most common carriers of the virus are raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and coyotes.
Rabies is primarily a disease of children, who are particularly at risk from this terrible disease. Children are more likely to suffer multiple bites and scratches to the face and head, both of which carry a higher risk of contracting rabies. Because children are often unaware of the danger these injuries can pose, they may not tell their parents when a bite, lick, or scratch has occurred from an infected animal.
How is rabies prevented?
Rabies prevention starts with the pet owner. Protect yourself, your pets and your community by visiting your veterinarian and having your pets vaccinated. Avoid stray animals and wildlife. If you are bitten, wash bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. If your pet is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop rabies infection and prevent the spread of rabies to humans and animals.
Despite what new viruses pop up in the future, remember that rabies is still alive and well. It is your responsibility to take the simple but necessary steps to prevent and avoid it.
To learn more about rabies, the OVMA recommends consulting your local animal health expert: your veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association has compiled a collection of rabies resources for the public. More information on World Rabies Day can be found online at www.worldrabiesday.org.
About the OVMA
The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) is a non-profit organization providing services to its members in the areas of continuing education, advocacy on public policy matters, and access to variety of professional resources. The OVMA represents more than 2,400 veterinarians practicing in various fields and specialties. The OVMA’s principal purpose and mission is to foster life-long learning, stewardship, compassion and community in veterinary medicine. Learn more about the OVMA and access a wealth of animal health resources online at www.ohiovma.org.