In honor of World Rabies Day on September 28, we wanted to spread awareness about this fatal, but preventable disease. Rabies affects mammals, including humans and pets, and is one of the deadliest diseases. As a pet owner, the best thing you can do is know the facts to keep this disease away from yourself and your loved ones.
The US typically sees 2-3 cases of human rabies per year. Worldwide, there are around 55,000 cases per year, mostly in developing countries and mostly from dog sources. We are lucky to live in a country with excellent rabies control.
Since 2003, the rabies virus has been positively diagnosed in 37 people in the US. Seventy percent of these individuals acquired the virus inside the United States or Puerto Rico. The bat rabies virus variants were genetically identified to be implicated in 65% of these cases.
There are many subtypes of rabies virus (bat types, raccoon types, etc.), but any mammal is able to be infected by any variant of the rabies virus.
Three people in the US have survived clinical rabies virus infection since 2003. All three are female and were 17 years of age or younger at the time of illness. The typical incubation period for the rabies virus in humans is 1-3 months. In rare cases, years have passed between exposure and clinical illness. The longest incubation period so far occurred in a man who emigrated from Brazil to the US. Eight years later, he died of rabies encephalitis genetically confirmed to be a South American canine virus variant. The canine rabies variants have not been found to exist in the US since 2007.
The incubation period for the rabies virus in dogs and cats is typically 3-8 weeks. This is the time from infection (being bitten) to developing symptoms. When an infected animal develops clinical symptoms of rabies, they became infectious six days earlier. This is why our post-bite (to human) quarantine for domestic dogs and cats is 10 days. If a dog bites a person but does not display symptoms of rabies within the following 10 days, it is impossible for the rabies virus to have been transmitted.
In 2014 there were 445 cases of confirmed rabies in domestic animals. Cats accounted for 61.1% and dogs made up 13.3%. Cattle accounted for 17.5%. Horses and mules accounted for 5.6%. Sheep, goats, and a single llama made up the remaining 2.5%. The vast majority of animals confirmed to have rabies in the same year were wild animals, 5588 cases.
What Can You Do?
All pets - especially dogs, cats and ferrets - that are in frequent contact with humans should be routinely vaccinated. Consider vaccinating livestock, horses or any animal that has frequent contact with humans.
Be sure to never handle or feed unfamiliar animals and teach your children to do the same - even if the animals seem friendly. If you see any strange behaving animals in your area, or if you or your pet has been bitten, please contact your city or county animal control right away.
We are always here if you have questions or would like to check your pet's rabies vaccination status. Please call us at (262) 241-4884.
Dr. Kelly Kasum is an associate veterinarian at East Towne Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Kelly has practiced general small animal medicine and surgery in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.