Rabies! Instantly we picture a wild animal or even a domestic dog, foam slathering from its mouth as it prepares to attack. This killer virus raises its head every year always waiting for an opportunity to strike. Modern medicine has come close to eradicating this disease, but it’s not gone yet! We have seen a large number of bite wounds this summer and many of these pets are not up to date on rabies vaccinations.

In North America, we are extremely lucky. Vaccinations have practically eliminated the threat of rabies from our domestic animals.

Ongoing programs using oral rabies vaccines for wildlife are attempting to halt the spread of rabies among raccoons, skunks and foxes. However, just last month, we submitted a Rabies test on a skunk that had attacked a dog and the skunk tested positive.

But if we have done such a great job, then why should we continue to be concerned and vaccinate our pets? Are we still in danger from our ancient foe?

The simple answer is a resounding YES!

According to the Alliance for Rabies Control, 55,000 people die from rabies each year around the world, mainly in Asia and Africa – an unfortunate statistic – because with appropriate medical care, rabies in humans is 100% preventable.

An even sadder fact is a large percentage of deaths are children. More than 100 children die from rabies worldwide every day. Overall, one person is killed by this disease every 10 minutes!

Rabies is a viral disease that can affect any warm-blooded animal; however, our close association with dogs brings this killer home to our families.

After development of an effective vaccination program for our pets and a post-exposure rabies vaccine for people, rabies cases in humans began to drop significantly in Western countries.

Within the last decade, less than three-dozen people have died from rabies in the United States. The majority of these deaths were attributable to bat or dog bites from outside the United States. This dramatic decrease has prompted the CDC to announce canine rabies is “extinct” in the U.S.

“There are many people today who remember rabid dogs in the streets of their neighborhoods,” says Dr. Sandy Norman, a veterinarian with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. She warns that pet owners should continue vaccinating their pets, especially in light of the CDC announcement. Please keep in mind, it is a Massachusetts State Law that all pets be vaccinated for Rabies.

“It is only through continued vigilance that we will maintain that status,” she says. “There is a huge reservoir of rabies among wildlife and it is not unimaginable that those strains could infect our pets.”

Additionally, world travel could allow someone to unknowingly bring home a rabid pet. Recently, several British animal rescuers underwent prophylactic rabies vaccines. A puppy imported from Sri Lanka bit all of them and later, was found to be rabid.

Here in the United States, more than 20,000 prophylactic doses of human rabies vaccines are given annually.

To help keep this disease in the public eye, the Alliance for Rabies Control, a charity created in the United Kingdom, enacted World Rabies Day. The goal is to eradicate terrestrial rabies as quickly as possible.

World Rabies Day, held each September, is designed to raise awareness and help people understand how they can help eliminate this threat.

Four hundred thousand people from around the world participated in the first World Rabies Day in an effort to raise knowledge and understanding. Additionally, leading U.S. veterinary associations and pharmaceutical companies, like Merial and Novartis are all contributing to the cause.

Keeping yourself safe from rabies is easy by following a few simple steps:

First, follow your veterinarian’s guidelines as well as your local ordinances with regards to vaccinating your pet. Laws vary from state to state so be sure you understand your responsibility. Our state law dictates that every pet receive a one year rabies followed by a booster within nine (9) to twelve (12) months that is valid for 3 years. There are no exceptions.

Second, avoid contact with wildlife. Rabies still exists in wild animals. Never attempt to remove a wild animal from your property without professional help.

Be especially wary of bats. Most human rabies cases in North America are the result of a bat bite.

Finally, the Alliance asks that you tell your friends how rabies impacts lives around the world. Encourage neighbors and fellow pet owners to vaccinate all of their pets.

Rabies can be controlled and potentially even eliminated in many parts of the world, but as Dr. Norman says, “Continued vigilance is essential.”

Ask your veterinary team if you have any questions concerning Rabies and be sure to visit www.worldrabiesday.org. To learn more about rabies and its effects on pets and people, visit www.gardneranimalcarecenter.com for important pet health videos.