Today, September 28, is World Rabies Day.
Rabies is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It can infect any mammal, can be passed from species to species and has a 99.9% fatality rate – the highest of any known disease.
World Rabies Day is meant to bring awareness and education in the hopes of eventually eradicating rabies from the world. It happens every year on September 28, the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death. Pasteur administered the first rabies vaccine 130 years ago and it’s because of him that the disease is preventable today.
So what do we need to know about rabies?
How is it transmitted?
The most common method of rabies transmission is through the saliva of an infected animal. This makes bites from a rabies-infected animal particularly deadly. Your pet could also get infected by picking up a dead animal in its mouth or even licking its paws after fighting or pawing at an infected animal. Rabies can spread quickly because it can be transferred to any animal who comes into contact with it, all the way up to humans.
Can you test for rabies?
Currently, it’s impossible to test a living animal for rabies. The only way to determine definitively if an animal is infected is by examining the tissue of its brain. Instead, it’s important to watch out for common signs of infection, including:
- Unusually aggressive behavior
- Unusually calm behavior
- Abnormal behavior, such as a nocturnal animal being active in the daytime
- Poor coordination and weakness
- Paralysis, particularly in the jaw and throat
- Excessive saliva, “foaming at the mouth”
- Hypersensitivity to outside stimulus like light and sound
Unfortunately, it can take 21 to 80 days for any of these signs to manifest after an animal is infected, and the disease can often be transferred through the saliva more than a week before the symptoms begin. Once signs of paralysis are detected, the disease is fatal within a few days.
So how do you prevent it?
Vaccinations. That’s the method that Louis Pasteur gave us and it has allowed us to prevent the widespread of rabies throughout the developed world. Here in Florida, dogs, cats and ferrets are required to get a rabies vaccine at 4 months, with a booster shot 12 months later. Follow-up boosters must be regularly administered after that for the rest of the pet’s life, with a frequency depending on the animal and the type of vaccine used. This is the only reliable way to prevent rabies infection.
It is also a good idea to manage a pet’s outdoor activity to prevent contact with rabies-infected animals. Dogs and cats who spend most of their time outdoors, unsupervised, are especially at risk for infection.
The idea of a rabies infection is truly scary, but we know how to keep the disease at bay and keep your pets safe. So, this September 28, make sure your pets are vaccinated, give them a hug and thank Louis Pasteur.