Rabies: An Ancient Disease, Still Important Today

September 24, 2014

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.


World Rabies Day: September 28, 2013

September 25, 2013

world rabies dayWorld Rabies Day takes place each year on September 28, the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first efficacious rabies vaccine. The promotion of World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about the impact of rabies on humans and animals, provide information and advice on how to prevent the disease, and inform us of ways individuals and organizations can help eliminate global sources (World Rabies Day website, 2010).

A recent article in the Palm Beach Post sets the tone for this year’s World Rabies Day blog. Four people, trying to help a sick kitten, have been exposed to rabies and have undergone rabies post exposure prophylaxis.

Feline rabies rising
This story helps underscore the importance of rabies vaccination in cats. Depending on the laws in your town and the type of vaccination used, cats may need to be vaccinated for rabies every one, two or three years by your primary care veterinarian. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports feline rabies is on the rise.

For the last three decades, the animal causing the most human exposure to rabies is the cat. According to New York State’s Wadsworth Laboratory, which performs statewide rabies testing, between 2003 and 2009 in New York State, there were about 25-30 feline cases of rabies per year. That number jumped to about 40 cases in 2010-2011, decreased to the usual level in 2012, and hopefully will continue to decrease. The Wadsworth Laboratory also reports cats are the number two animal tested (behind bats) and the number one domestic species tested for rabies. In 2012, 22 New York State cats tested positive for rabies, but no dogs tested positive for the rabies virus. Dog rabies occurs infrequently due to the successful vaccination programs in place.

Veterinarians are concerned the number of feline rabies cases will not decrease, since cats see their doctors less often than dogs see theirs. Fewer veterinary visits mean fewer opportunities to vaccinate cats against rabies, resulting in more unvaccinated cats at risk of developing rabies.

Feral cat reservoir? 
Since feral cats live at the intersection between humans and wild animals, some suggest feral cats serve as a reservoir for rabies. The rabid kitten of the Palm Beach Post article was believed to have come from a feral cat colony. Some colonies of feral cats are managed to facilitate population control and rabies prevention, but the Palm Beach colony was not managed in any way, causing some to call for removal of the entire colony.

Protecting your cat against rabies

  • Vaccination is the best method for preventing rabies. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Keep your cat indoors and away from wild animals that may harbor rabies.
  • Don’t feed wild animals in your yard; you may be attracting trouble and putting your pets and family at risk.

Check out the Worms & Germs Blog for more information about rabies.

 


World Rabies Day 2012

September 28, 2012

Today, Friday, September 28th is World Rabies Day. This annual event serves to increase awareness about rabies in both animals and humans. In the United States, human cases of rabies have dramatically decreased since the 1970’s due to the “One Health” collaboration between public health officials, veterinarian-directed rabies vaccinations for companion animals, and wildlife vaccination programs.

Something new under the sun

Described in ancient Babylonia, by Homer in the Iliad, and also by Aristotle, rabies is possibly the oldest infectious disease known to both man and beast. But two recent developments, a shortage of the human vaccine, and increasing reports of rabies in animals has led to new issues in the prevention of rabies.

More animals and more species of rabid animals

Wild raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes harbor the rabies virus and transmit it to domestic animals and people. Airplane passengers got a scare earlier this year when a rabid bat checked himself into an Atlanta bound flight.

As cute as some wild animals are, we must never forget they are, in fact, wild and can cause great harm to humans. Most of us are wary of the typical rabies carriers like raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes, but recently, reports of rabies in unusual animals reminds us to look and not touch any wild animal, including groundhogs, beavers and deer.

Even NYC is not immune to rabies. We had a small raccoon epidemic a couple of years ago in Central Park.

Cats are the number one domestic animal infected with rabies, and just a few days ago, rabid kittens inadvertently adopted by families in Georgia provoked a public health scare.

Human vaccine shortage

Six cases of human rabies were reported in the United States in 2011; in 2010, only two cases were reported. Since rabies is virtually always fatal, even one case is too many. Some people at high risk, like veterinarians and international travelers, are vaccinated against rabies as a precaution. For those not vaccinated, post exposure prophylaxis is administered.

The same vaccine works for both pre- and post-exposure treatments, but right now vaccine supplies are limited. Priority for vaccination goes to those possibly exposed to rabies, and preventive vaccination is on hold. Government officials believe this situation will resolve shortly.

Protect your pet, protect yourself

  • Rabies vaccine is safe and readily available for companion animals. Talk to your veterinarian about rabies vaccination for your pets.
  • Both you and your pet should avoid contact with wild animals. If you find an injured wild animal, report it to the appropriate authorities; don’t try and care for it yourself.
  • Don’t encourage wild animals to visit your yard by feeding them.

If you want more information about rabies, review the most recent surveillance report from the American Veterinary Medical Association that was published just two weeks ago.


World Rabies Day 2010

September 27, 2010

Tuesday September 28 is World Rabies Day. This is the 4th year of the event to raise awareness of and resources for rabies prevention and control.

For most Americans, rabies is not an imminent threat, but worldwide, rabies is estimated to kill 55,000 humans annually. Over 99% of human cases are caused by the bite of a rabid dog. Most cases of human rabies occur in Asia and Africa where rabies vaccination of dogs to prevent human exposure to the rabies virus is beyond the financial scope of these country’s public health system.

Despite the lost cost and ready availability of a rabies vaccine for both dogs and cats in the United States, not all states require rabies vaccines in pets. There are 12 states that do not require rabies vaccinations for dogs and 20 that do not require rabies vaccinations for cats. Rabies has been on the decline in dogs since the early 1990’s. The lower number of states requiring feline rabies vaccinations may explain why the nationwide data for 2008 reports 294 rabies positive cats and only 75 rabies positive dogs.

Rabies vaccination is successful in controlling the spread of this deadly disease. Case in point is New York City, where the canine vaccination requirement has resulted in a city free of canine rabies for over 50 years. Although rabies vaccination is required for New York City cats, 12 cats have tested positive for rabies since feline rabies surveillance started in 1992, mirroring the increase in feline rabies nationwide. Despite the success in vaccinating pet against rabies, New York City is currently experiencing an increase in rabies in raccoons and coyotes in our large parks. Rabid wildlife and rabid feral cats pose a risk to the public since it is hard to resist feeding and petting animals in the park if they appear friendly.

Rabies prevention starts with the pet owner. When your cat or dog makes its annual wellness visit to the veterinarian, ask if a rabies vaccine is appropriate for your pet. Veterinarians consider rabies vaccination a ‘core’ vaccine. This means the vaccination is critical to protecting the health of the pet and the pet’s family. Very few pets will not be given the ‘core’ vaccines. Your family veterinarian is the person to advise you on the laws regarding rabies in your state and the need for your pet to be vaccinated against rabies.

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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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