Rabies: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself and Your Pets

April 28, 2023

Rabies is a serious illness caused by a virus that can be deadly for both animals and humans. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. In the United States, one to three people die from rabies each year. The vast majority of reported rabies cases in the US occur in wild animals, particularly raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. In fact, bats are the leading cause of human deaths from rabies in the US, causing at least 7 out of 10 human deaths in recent years. In 2021 alone, five human deaths occurred due to exposure from bats. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats only account for 1%of reported rabies cases in the US, but they remain the leading cause of nearly all rabies-related deaths in humans worldwide.

The symptoms of rabies in animals can vary, but they often include general sickness, aggressive behavior, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, timid or shy behavior, slow movement, paralysis, and biting at imaginary objects. If you come across an animal displaying any of these symptoms, it is important to avoid contact and call animal control immediately.

The symptoms of rabies in humans can take weeks or months to appear after exposure to an infected animal bite or scratch. The incubation period of the virus varies depending on several factors, such as the location of the exposure site and its proximity to the brain, the type of virus, and existing immunity. Initial symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, weakness, fever, headache, and itching or prickling at the site of exposure. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include anxiety, confusion, agitation, delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, fear of water, and insomnia. Unfortunately, once symptoms appear in humans, they are almost always fatal.

"Preventing rabies is crucial for both human and animal health. By taking proactive measures such as vaccinating pets and avoiding contact with wild or stray animals, we can greatly reduce the risk of rabies transmission and protect ourselves and our communities." said Melissa Smith, Community Health Manager at CareArc.

Regular rabies vaccinations for domestic pets, spaying and neutering pets, keeping pets away from wild animals, and calling animal control to remove stray animals are all important steps. It is also important to never touch wild animals or stray animals, as they may carry the virus. If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal, seek medical attention immediately. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)can help prevent the virus from causing illness, but it must be given as soon as possible after exposure. PEP includes a dose of Human Rabies Immune Globulin(HRIG) and four doses of rabies vaccine on the day of exposure, day 3, day 7,and day 14.

In addition to the cost of vaccinations and PEP, rabies diagnostics, prevention, and control in the US costs between $245 to $510 million dollars each year, not including associated healthcare and treatment costs, animal control measures, and lost work time. PEP treatment protocols can range from $1,200 to $6,500 per person, depending on the number of doses required and the cost of HRIG.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to rabies. Protecting yourself, your pets, and your community from rabies is essential to reducing the risk of illness and death from this deadly virus.

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