World Rabies Day was held last month, bringing about awareness of the danger of rabies in both people and animals across the world. Although humans in the U.S. contracting rabies is rare, it can and does happen.
One of my Montana friends has worked for an animal shelter in that state and volunteers with the shelter and helps other rescue organizations. I asked her to pen some thoughts about unvaccinated dogs, rabies, and other diseases that we should be concerned about if we are, or someone we love is, bitten by a dog. Below are some of her comments.
Everyone thinks of rabies when a dog bites, but that is only one of the diseases that can be inflicted.
Rabies: The most dangerous disease that people can contract through dog bites. While cases of rabies are rare, the disease is incredibly lethal. Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and once symptoms show, it’s almost always fatal. One of the most common ways to contract rabies is through the bite and saliva of an infected animal. Victims who have been exposed to an animal that could have rabies should immediately seek out medical treatment.
Capnocytophaga: This is a bacterium that lives in the mouths of humans, dogs, and cats. The bacteria don’t make dogs or cats sick, so it is not always easy to identify if your pet has it. The spread of Capnocytophaga to humans is rare. It’s typically spread through bites, scratches or close contact with a dog or cat. Most humans who do encounter dogs or cats do not become sick. However, people with a weakened immune system are at a greater risk of becoming sick.
Pasteurella: This is a type of bacteria seen in over 50% of infected dog bite wounds. The result is a painful, red infection around the bite area, but it can cause more severe conditions in people with a weakened immune system.
MRSA: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph infection that is resistant to some antibiotics. Dogs and other animals can carry MRSA without showing symptoms. However, the bacteria can cause skin, lung, and urinary tract infections in people. In some, MRSA can spread to the bloodstream or lungs and cause life-threatening infections.
Tetanus: Tetanus is a toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. It can cause rigid paralysis in people exposed through deep bite wounds.
People need to remember that they are setting their animals up to fail when they allow them to get to the point of biting another person or animal. Yes, the victim may also be another animal.
Bite animals are quarantined as everyone waits and watches for signs of disease. The animal is confused about what happened and why it happened. Why are they now quarantined in a place that is not home with people who are not their family? The family has a hard time understanding that quarantine means NO contact by them, other animals, or ever the caretakers where the animal is held. The reason is simple: rabies can be transferred by an animal licking their fur and an individual then touching the fur. Plain and simple - rabies is a highly transmittable disease. The animal is NOT allowed to be comforted with the touch of anyone or thing for 14 days. Food and water are given without the door being opened. No bedding, towels, toys, etc. can be touched. At our shelter, we play soothing music during their stay and visit with them outside the cage; however, it isn’t the same as what happens when they are at home with their own family. For the dog, this situation is foreign and scary; many animals become depressed and anxious. Daily calls are made to the bite victim and to the family of the dog to let them know of the animal’s health and condition.
Why put your family, your animal, the victim and his/her family through all of this? It is always surprising to hear the reasons that an animal has NOT been vaccinated, especially for rabies, when we are called to an animal bite. “I just didn’t think that they needed to have the shot.” “We don’t believe in vaccinating.” “Animals are over-vaccinated in America.” Any one of these and more are reasons that we hear. My response is, “Was it worth it to not vaccinate your animal? To not have them at home with their family? To stress over whether you are going to have to pay for multiple injections into the bite site of the victim? To have your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance go up after the first bite and the second? Forget the third bite; the animal will be euthanized in most cities around the country. To have to put signs up in your yard about a vicious animal? To muzzle your animal when they are outside or go to the vet?
The sad fact is that many are under the false belief that their animals don’t need to be vaccinated because they never leave the house or the yard. This lack of understanding of disease prevention leads to many animals dying for no good reason. A simple vaccination can prevent days of fear and anxiety for a bite victim and their family, the owner of the animal that bit, and the community in general.
I appreciate my friend sharing her insights. May we all consider these thoughts and keep our pets healthy and free from disease, and our friends, loved ones, neighbors, and community safer.
Most towns and communities have ordinances and states/provinces have laws regarding vaccinations, vicious animal designations, and how animal control is to handle potential rabies situations. You may want to check such laws for where you live as you consider the vaccines recommended for your pets and educate others on this topic as well.
Our veterinarians recommend we vaccinate our pets against rabies, and many American communities require such vaccines. Why should we as pet owners and community residents be concerned about rabies?
A friend of mine who lives in Montana can attest to the need for rabies awareness and vaccinations. Earlier this year she received a major leg injury from a dog bite. She’s not unfamiliar with dogs; in fact, she was conducting an obedience class in her town’s park when the attack happened. Turns out the dog that inflicted the injury had not been vaccinated against rabies.
“Anyone who even touches an animal – dog, cat, horse, bat, whatever – that has rabies, has to get a shot, which can cost $3,000. If the person is bitten, they basically are re-traumatized because the first shot goes into the area where the bite is – think of children who might have to go through that,” she said.
In her community, there were nine bite incidents from January to mid-August, she added. My Montana friend needs to be monitored for the next two years to insure she doesn’t contract rabies.
Although a human contracting rabies is rare, it does happen. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one to three cases of human rabies are reported each year. “The number of human deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has been steadily declining since the 1970’s thanks to animal control and vaccination programs, successful outreach programs, and the availability of modern rabies biologics. Dog rabies vaccination programs have halted the natural spread of rabies among domestic dogs, which are no longer considered a rabies reservoir in the United States,” according the CDC’s website. However, the organization’s website text adds, “each year between 60 to 70 dogs and more than 250 cats are reported rabid. Nearly all these animals were unvaccinated and became infected from rabid wildlife (such as bats, raccoons, and skunks).”
I live in Wyoming, and the CDC notes that an elderly woman in the state contracted and died from rabies in 2015 through an encounter with a bat.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a human who is bitten by a rabid animal receives a series of four shots given over 14 days, plus one that’s fast-acting (rabies immune globulin) given as soon as possible after the bite. Read more here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rabies/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351826.
World Rabies Day
Friday, September 28 is World Rabies Day. Started 11 years ago, this special day was created to raise awareness about rabies and bring together partners to improve prevention and control efforts throughout the world. World Rabies Day is observed in many countries, including the United States. About 59,000 people die from rabies throughout the world each year, according to the CDC. Vietnam, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mexico, and India are some of the countries where people have been exposed to rabies and where the disease is still rampant not only in wild animals, but also in dogs.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 5,000 cases of animal rabies was reported in 2016. The disease attacks the nervous system and, once infected, death of the animal is certain. The disease passes from animal to animal (or human) when the virus is secreted via the animal’s saliva oftentimes by a bite from the infected animal. Rabies can also be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with an open cut on the skin or the eyes, nose, or mouth of a person or other animal. Only mammals contract rabies. Vaccines are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep.
The best way to prevent rabies in our pets to have them vaccinated. Raccoons, skunks, and bats are prone to rabies and these wild animals often come into yards and houses. Stray dogs and cats can also be transmitters of rabies, therefore, protect your beloved pet from potential contact with a stray, or unvaccinated, dog or cat. This also can help protect you and your family plus people in your community. If you travel outside the United States, learn what you need to know about rabies in other countries by visiting this website: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/rabies.
The theme for this year’s World Rabies Day is Rabies: Share the Message, Save a Life. Help educate people on the importance of rabies awareness and vaccinating pets against the disease.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.