Rabies: An Ancient Disease, Still Important Today

World Rabies Day logoRabies is an ancient and universally feared disease. The first known description of rabies occurred before 2300 BC in Egypt. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote about rabies around 350 BC. Louis Pasteur developed the first successful rabies vaccine in the late 1800s and widespread vaccination programs have greatly decreased rabies in domestic animals; although wild animals continue to be a reservoir for rabies in the United States.

Still Important Today
Despite the development of excellent and safe vaccines against rabies, every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, a person dies of rabies, most of them children. The majority of cases of human rabies occur in Asia and Africa, regions of the world which lack the resources to implement rabies vaccination programs. For these people, every interaction with a dog is a potential exposure to rabies. Every year on World Rabies Day (September 28), stakeholders work to raise awareness about the disease and encourage appropriate vaccination.

Because we live in a global society, rabies can pop up anywhere. All it would take is the inadvertent transport of a rabid animal into a previously rabies free area to set off an epidemic.

Rabies in NYC
In the United States, the primary reservoir for rabies is bats, but, always the trendsetter, NYC’s reservoir is the local raccoon population. In 2013, 56 rabid animals were identified in NYC, a number four times the 2012 number. Of the rabid animals, 46 rabid raccoons were identified, mostly in Staten Island. A rabid dog has not been identified in NYC since 1954, but for three of the last four years, a rabid cat has been identified in our city. This trend is especially alarming since cats see the veterinarian less than once a year, and lapses in rabies protection are becoming more frequent.

Although NYC has a plethora of rats, mice and squirrels, these rodents are typically resistant to rabies. Groundhogs, another member of the rodent family, can contract rabies and a rabid groundhog was identified in NYC in 2007.

Protect All Family Members Against Rabies
Vaccinate your pet against rabies, as recommended by your veterinarian. Educate your children about safe interactions with dogs and other animals. Don’t feed wildlife because it may attract a rabid animal into your neighborhood. If you or your pet are bitten by an animal, seek medical attention immediately.

For the most up to date information about rabies in NYC, check the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s website.

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