September 28th is an important day for animal health. Not only is this date set aside annually to raise awareness about rabies prevention, but it also marks the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death – the French microbiologist and chemist who developed the first rabies vaccine.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is transmitted from animals to humans. It enters the body from a rabid animal’s saliva into a wound (from a scratch or bite). It cannot enter the body through intact skin. Once the rabies virus enters the body, it travels to the brain where the virus replicates. Clinical symptoms appear at this point and if post-exposure prophylaxis (treatment) has not started, the disease is fatal.
While many countries have been declared rabies-free, there are still an estimated 55,000 human deaths annually worldwide. Most of these cases occur in developing countries; however, each year in the United States there are a few human deaths from rabies. In North America, there are several wild animals that can spread the rabies virus to dogs and cats including skunks, raccoons, and bats.
This year the Global Alliance for Rabies Control’s (https://rabiesalliance.org/) theme for World Rabies Day is Rabies: Zero by 30 – the goal of this initiative is to have zero human deaths from canine rabies by the year 2030.
How can you protect yourself and your pets from rabies?
- Take your pets to a veterinarian for annual check-ups and ensure to follow the recommended vaccination plan for your pet and that this plan complies with local laws.
- Spay or neuter your pet. This helps reduce the number of unwanted and stray animals, therefore reducing the number of unvaccinated pets that are in close contact with wild animals
- Keep your pets (and yourself) away from wildlife and unfamiliar animals. Do not feed or handle wild animals. Report to the local authorities if you see wild animals that are overly forward (they are usually shy of humans) or appear disoriented. Avoid cats and dogs that are unfamiliar to you – they may be in contact with wild animals and can spread rabies to humans.
- Supervise your pets when they are outside or keep them inside. Do not keep water or food dishes outside for your pets as these may attract wildlife or strays to your yard.
- Vaccinate your indoor pets. Every year there are cases of indoor-only cats that acquire rabies from bats that fly into homes. In fact, just last month in an Ontario city, there was a confirmed case of rabies in a bat.
- Fundraising. Consider hosting an event in your community to raise funds to assist with vaccination programs in developing countries.
Rabies is a deadly disease that is completely preventable. Bringing awareness and educating the public to the importance of vaccination is a huge step to eradicating rabies and reaching the goal of Zero by 30.
Take a moment today to check that your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Spread the word through social media about rabies prevention, and do your part to keep our pets and families healthy and safe from the rabies virus.