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Posted on 08-17-2012

Rabies dates back thousands of years and has classically been one of the most feared infections of all times. rabies_1.jpg

Rabies is a viral infection and represents serious risks to humans and pets.  Rabies is transmitted via saliva by a bite of an infected animal. Wildlife is the primary animal carrier of Rabies.  When wildlife come in contact with humans or domestic animals, rabies becomes a public health concern.  Every year, the U.S. reports hundreds of dog and cat deaths from rabies, not to mention several human deaths.  Worldwide some 55,000 human deaths occur, and remains an important and nearly untreatable illness, even now in the 21st century. 

The rabies virus in the infected animal's saliva enters the victims (humans/pets) tissue during a bite.  The virus attaches to muscle cells/tissues before penetrating to the nervous tissue. It then begins its slow ascent to the brain.  Once in the nervous tissue, the virus is NOT accessible to the immune system, and will safely proceed its journey, and the outcome is very GRAVE!  Most people do not realize how fast death occurs from rabies, usually within 10 days.

There is NO test for rabies in a living animal (domestic or wildlife). An animal in question must be deceased in order to be tested.  This requires the deceased animal's brain be preserved and tested by proper authorities.

The most common wildlife species to spread rabies to humans and pets are raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.  These infected animals often show signs of anxiety, aggression, restlessness, confusion and erratic behaviors.  In Chester County there were 29 reported wildlife that tested positive for the rabies virus and over 445 total reported for the state of Pennsylvania in 2011.

*****PREVENTION*****
NO excuses, NO mistake, NO exceptions

Fortunately, there is something you can do.  A simple vaccine is the best way to help protect your pet against rabies.  Even if you keep your pet indoors, it should still be vaccinated and is required by LAW in Pennsylvania.  Limiting your pets exposure to wildlife is another way of protecting them.

The goal of the vaccine is to present the virus to the patients immune system in as natural a way as possible to best the stimulation obtained by natural infection, yet bypassing the illness in the patient.

The standard "killed-virus" vaccines are available to dogs, cats and ferrets.  The initial vaccine is given to puppies/kittens between the ages of 12-14 weeks, and is good for only 1 year.  Subsequent boostings are generally good for 3 years.  At Eagle Animal Hospital, we recommend boosting the rabies vaccine every 2 years, after the initial 1 year, due to the higher risk of rabies in Chester County.  Also this will also ensure the vaccine is never overdue.

"The killed-virus vaccine" - Large amounts of dead virus are injected into the patient, where it filters into the immune system, and leads to stimulation.
 
Can my pet have a reaction to the Rabies vaccine?

Whenever a vaccine is given to your pet, there is always the potential for a reaction.  You may notice muscle soreness at the injection site, lethargy, or a mild fever that can last up to two days.  Vaccine reactions beyond this point are unusual, but possible.  They usually are facial swelling and hives. These symptoms may require medical attention, and you should contact your veterinarian.  Special care should be taken when administering future vaccines.  You can discuss this with your veterinarian.

What if my pet or myself have been exposed to rabies?

If you or someone you know has been bitten or scratched by a wild animal or an unknown pet, you should contact your doctor or go to an ER immediately!

You should not handle any deceased wild animal or unknown pet without wearing protection (heavy duty gloves, shovel, etc.). You do not want to make contact with any of their bodily fluids.  Then, contact the animal control authorities.

If your pet has been bitten or exposed to a wild or potentially rabid animal, contact your veterinarian immediately, even if your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccine.  Your veterinarian may recommend boosting the rabies vaccine as a precaution.

What else can you do to protect your family and pets?

Don't leave garbage or pet food outdoors where it can attract wild or stray animals.

Observe all wild animals from a distance.

If you see a wild animal acting strangely, DO NOT approach, and report it to your local animal control authorities.

Please call our office, at Eagle Animal Hospital, to schedule your pet's rabies vaccine or to answer any other concerns or questions you may have. Eagle Animal Hospital serves Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and surrounding areas.

Written by Vicki Guy, veterinary technician

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