COLUMBUS, OHIO — SEPT. 27, 2010 — Not long ago, intense media attention to the avian, swine and canine influenza viruses caused widespread panic across the globe. At one time, the rabies virus received as much attention, but in recent decades, Old Yeller is long forgotten and the panic over rabies has died down.However, rabies is alive and well. It is easy to contract and has the highest case-fatality rate of any infectious disease, annually killing more than 55,000 people around the world.
As part of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28, the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association recommends taking simple steps to prevent rabies and offers tips on recognizing the symptoms.
What is Rabies?
Perhaps the oldest documented infectious disease, rabies is a virus that is most commonly found in raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, cats, dogs, cattle and horses — but is transmissible to all warm-blooded animals, including humans. The virus is found primarily in nervous tissue and saliva, and as such, is most often transmitted through animal bites. Once an animal is bitten, the virus incubates over a 15- to 50-day period. During this period and before symptoms begin to appear, the disease is undetectable. However, once an animal begins to exhibit the symptoms, rabies is inevitably fatal.
What are the symptoms?
While different species exhibit the disease in different ways, the number one sign of infection is a change in behavior. In addition, a rabies-infected animal will have a low-grade fever and may show self-mutilation at the bite site, often followed by anorexia and lethargy. The animal will also urinate more frequently and tend to seek solitude.
As the disease progresses, it enters into either a paralytic or furious stage. Dogs are more likely to present in the paralytic stage, during which the animal will often exhibit a dropped lower jaw and salivate profusely but be unable to swallow, due to paralysis of throat and jaw muscles. In the furious stage, which is more common for cats, the animal becomes irrational and viciously aggressive.
How to Prevent Rabies
Prevention is geared toward mass vaccination of all domestic animals and high-risk wild animals, as well as
controlling the stray dog and cat populations. Your part in rabies prevention is simple: vaccinate your pets (required in some Ohio counties), and avoid unfamiliar animals you encounter. If your occupation increases your risk of exposure to rabid animals or you are traveling to a country with a higher incidence of rabies, you may want to ask your doctor about pre-exposure vaccination.
If you or your pet are exposed to the virus, it is imperative that you take immediate action. Wash the wound thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water before calling your doctor or veterinarian. Humans will need to get a rabies immunoglobulin vaccination, followed by a series of four doses of the rabies vaccine.
Despite what new viruses pop up in the future, remember that rabies is still out there. It is your responsibility to take the simple but necessary steps to prevent and avoid it.
For more information on World Rabies Day, visit the organization’s Web site.
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ohio Veterinary Medical Association
3168 Riverside Drive
Columbus, Ohio 43221
Phone: 614.486.7253 / 800.662.OVMA