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Rabies Awareness

There is no mistaking the fact that rabies is a serious risk to your pet, but far too many people never realize that rabies is also a serious risk to public health and safety.
Rabies kills thousands of animals each year, but were you also aware that thousands of human deaths result from this diesase as well?
According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that over 55,000 people die from this disease worldwide each year.

Rabies is not a subject that the Macon County Humane Society takes lightly.

We urge you to get the facts-Follow the law as well as the advice of your veterinarian and have your pet protected from this deadly disease.

Rabies: What is it?

RabiesvirusphotoRabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system.
The rabies virus is mainly in the saliva and brain of rabid animals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in a wound or in the eye or mouth. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop the infection and prevent the disease in humans.
There are some activities, especially cave explorers, who are more likely to come in contact with the virus, actually breathing in the virus in the dark, humid cave environment where a large number of infected bats are found. The virus is able to survive outside the host. Carnivorous animals can acquire rabies by eating infected prey and skunks have been able to transmit rabies to their young transplacentally.
Only mammals get rabies; birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians do not. Skunks, bats, foxes, raccoons, dogs, cats, and some farm animals are most likely to get rabies. Rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice, and pets like gerbils and hamsters seldom get it.

Rabies can be prevented in cats, dogs, ferrets, and some livestock with a rabies vaccination. For most wild and exotic animals, there are no rabies vaccines available that have been shown to protect them.
Infected dogs account for less than 5% of all rabies cases. However in other countries where canine rabies has not been controlled, it accounts for 90% or more of cases of rabies.

According to the
World Health Organization, reliable data on rabies is scarce in many areas of the globe, making it difficult to assess its full impact on human and animal health. The W.H.O. commissioned a re-assessment of the burden of rabies in 2004. According to this study the annual number of deaths worldwide caused by rabies is estimated to be 55,000, mostly in rural areas of Africa and Asia. An estimated 10 million people receive post-exposure treatments each year after being exposed to rabies suspect animals.
The assessment shows that Asia carries a larger part of the public health burden of rabies (with an estimated 31,000 deaths), although the estimate for Africa (24,000 deaths) is much greater than initially believed. Asia also carries 96.5% of the economic burden of rabies in the developing world with $560 million dollars spent each year mostly on post-exposure treatment (prophylaxis).

Where data is available, there is consistent evidence that between 30 - 60% of the victims of dog bites in canine rabies endemic areas are children under 15 years of age. The majority of these children may not be treated because their exposures go unreported to parents or health officials.
Rabies is the 10th leading cause of death worldwide.
In North America, especially on the east coast, an increasing number of infected raccoons are being seen. In the Midwest, skunks and bats more commonly carry rabies.
Wild animals generally account for about 93% of rabies, raccoons about 40% of that, skunks 30%, and foxes 6%.
Source: World Health Organization
Center for Disease Control & Prevention/National Center for Infectious Diseases

The Rabies Virus

Rabies virus belongs to the order Mononegavirales, viruses with a nonsegmented, negative-stranded RNA genomes.
Within this group, viruses with a distinct "bullet" shape are classified in the Rhabdoviridae family, which includes at least three genera of animal viruses, Lyssavirus, Ephemerovirus, and Vesiculovirus.
The genus Lyssavirus includes rabies virus, Lagos bat, Mokola virus, Duvenhage virus, European bat virus 1 & 2 and Australian bat virus.

Rhabdoviruses are approximately 180 nm long and 75 nm wide. The rabies genome encodes five proteins: nucleoprotein (N), phosphoprotein (P), matrix protein (M), glycoprotein (G) and polymerase (L). All rhabdoviruses are have two major structural components: a helical ribonucleoprotein core (RNP) and a surrounding envelope. In the RNP, genomic RNA is tightly encased by the nucleoprotein.
Two other viral proteins, the phospoprotein and the large protein (L-protein or polymerase) are associated with the RNP. The glycoprotein forms approximately 400 trimeric spikes which are tightly arranged on the surface of the virus. The M protein is associated both with the envelope and the RNP and may be the central protein of rhabdovirus assembly.

How Rabies is Spread

  infectious path of rabies virus
Transmission of rabies virus usually begins when infected saliva of a host is passed to an uninfected animal. Various routes of transmission have been documented and include contamination of mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth), aerosol transmission, and corneal transplantations. The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host.

Following primary infection (see Figure, numbers 1 & 2), the virus enters an eclipse phase in which it cannot be easily detected within the host. This phase may last for several days or months. Investigations have shown both direct entry of virus into peripheral nerves at the site of infection and indirect entry after viral replication in nonnervous tissue (i.e., muscle cells). During the eclipse phase, the host immune defenses may confer cell-mediated immunity against viral infection because rabies virus is a good antigen . The uptake of virus into peripheral nerves is important for progressive infection to occur (see Figure, number 3).

After uptake into peripheral nerves, rabies virus is transported to the central nervous system (CNS) via retrograde axoplasmic flow. Typically this occurs via sensory and motor nerves at the initial site of infection. The incubation period (see figure, number 4) is the time from exposure to onset of clinical signs of disease. The incubation period may vary from a few days to several years, but is typically 1 to 3 months. Dissemination of virus within the CNS is rapid, and includes early involvement of limbic system neurons (see Figure, number 5).

Active cerebral infection is followed by passive centrifugal spread of virus to peripheral nerves. The amplification of infection within the CNS occurs through cycles of viral replication and cell-to-cell transfer of progeny virus. Centrifugal spread of virus may lead to the invasion of highly innervated sites of various tissues, including the salivary glands. During this period of cerebral infection, the classic behavioral changes associated with rabies develop.

Signs & Symptoms of Rabies Infection

rabiddogAnimals with rabies may act differently than healthy animals. Wild animals may move slowly or act tame. Also, some wild animals, like foxes, raccoons, and skunks, that normally avoid porcupines, may receive a face full of quills if they become rabid and try to bite these prickly rodents. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you and try to bite.
There are two common types of rabies. One type is "furious" rabies.
Animals with this type are hostile, may bite at objects, and have an increase in saliva.
In the movies and in books, rabid animals foam at the mouth. In real life, rabid animals look like they have foam in their mouth because they have more saliva.

The second and more common form is known as paralytic or "dumb" rabies.
The dog pictured (right) has this type.

An animal with "dumb" rabies is timid and shy. It often rejects food and has paralysis of the lower jaw and muscles.

In cases of "furious" rabies or "dumb" rabies, by the time the animal shows symptoms, it is too late-the animal connot be saved and must be euthanized.

Signs of Rabies in Animal Can Include:

  • changes in an animal’s behavior, rejecting of food

  • general sickness

  • problems swallowing

  • an increase in drool or saliva

  • wild animals that appear abnormally tame or sick

  • animals that may bite at everything if excited

  • difficulty moving or paralysis

  • death

  • Animals in the early stage of rabies may not have any signs, although they can still infect you if they bite you. The incubation period is the time from the animal bite to when signs appear. In rabies, it is usually 1-3 months. But it can last as long as several years. Once the virus reaches the brain or spinal cord, signs of the disease appear. In both types, by the time the animal begins to show signs or symptoms there is little hope of survival.
    It's a fact that "indoor only" pets sometimes get outside, this is why is is important to comply with the law to have your pets rabies shots up-to-date. If you suspect that your pet has been in a fight with another animal, please consult with your pet's Veterinarian as soon as possible.

    Rabies & Humans

    Risk Factors-You're at greatest risk of contracting rabies if your activities bring you into contact with the rabies virus or a potentially rabid mammal. People at risk can include veterinarians, animal caretakers or handlers, laboratory workers, cave explorers, forest rangers and people visiting bat-inhabited caves.
    You're also at risk if you plan to travel to areas where rabies isn't well controlled, such as parts of Africa, Asia, Central America and South America.

    If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, The Macon County Humane Society urges you to seek immediate medical care and to report the incident to your local health department.

    Signs and symptoms of rabies usually appear within one to three months after exposure. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear. Death from breathing failure often happens within a week after the appearance of signs and symptoms. Early signs and symptoms of rabies in humans are general and not unique to the disease. They may include:
  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Malaise

  • As the disease progresses, signs and symptoms may include:
  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Slight or partial paralysis

  • Excitation

  • Hallucinations

  • Agitation

  • Excessive salivation (hypersalivation)

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Fear of water (hydrophobia) because of the difficulty in swallowing

  • A bite's severity and its location on your body can determine how quickly signs and symptoms appear. A severe bite to your head might cause problems to appear in a much shorter time than might those of a bite to your leg. In rare cases, signs and symptoms might not appear for a year or longer after exposure to the virus.

    Treatment for Rabies in Humans

    If your doctor determines that you likely were exposed to rabies, treatment begins at once. The sooner you begin treatment, the greater your chance of recovery.
    If you live in the United States and receive treatment for rabies after an animal bite, treatment — called post-exposure prophylaxis — consists of one dose of rabies immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine over a 28-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine are administered as soon as possible after you've been exposed and have reported the exposure to your doctor. You're given the immune globulin by injection around the site of the bite, and you receive injections of the vaccine into your upper arm muscle.
    Immune globulins are disease-fighting proteins that provide you with temporary antibodies. The rabies vaccine helps your body start producing its own antibodies. Antibody production takes time, but the antibodies produced by your body provide longer lasting protection than do the ones contained in rabies immune globulin.

    Because of improved rabies vaccination programs for pets and better treatment for people who are bitten, rabies cases among humans in this country are rare. The best way to prevent the spread of rabies to humans is by keeping pets properly vaccinated, stay away from wildlife animals, seek treatment for any animal bite or scratch at once as well as reporting it to your local health department.
    If you work with animals in an shelter, rescue group or will travel overseas, talk to your doctor about pre-exposure rabies treatments.

    If You Are Bitten By an Animal

  • Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the bite, either. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. Washing thoroughly will greatly lessen the chance of infection. Give first aid as you would for any wound.

  • If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away.
    Don’t try to pick the animal up!
    Call an animal control or law enforcement officer to come get it.

  • If it’s a wild animal that must be killed, don’t damage the head. The brain will be needed to test for rabies. Don’t let anyone destroy wild animals at random just because there may be a rabies outbreak in your area. Only a few wild animals will be carrying rabies.

  • It's critically important that you notify your family doctor immediately and explain how you got the bite. Your doctor will want to know if the animal has been captured. If necessary, your doctor will give the anti-rabies treatment recommended by the United States Public Health Service. Your doctor will also treat you for other possible infections that could be caused from the bite.

  • Report the bite to the local health department.  

  • If Your Pet Bites Someone

    Tell the person that has been bitten to see a doctor immediately and to follow the previous advise. Report the bite to the local health department. If your pet is a dog, cat, or ferret they will probably have you confine the animal and watch it closely for 10 days. Report any illness or unusual behavior to your local health department and veterinarian immediately.
  • Don’t let the animal stray, and don’t give the animal away. It must be available for observation by public health authorities.

  • Don’t kill your pet or allow it to be killed unless you have been instructed to do so by the public health authorities.

  • Check with your veterinarian to find out if your pet has a current vaccination.

  • After the recommended observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if it does not have a current rabies vaccination.

  • Please Be Aware of Alabama State Code Relating to Dogbites!

    Title 3. Animals.  Chapter 6. Liability of Owners of Dogs Biting or Injuring Persons

    § 3-6-1. Liability of owner of dog for injuries to person bitten or injured while upon property owned or controlled by owner, etc.

    If any dog shall, without provocation, bite or injure any person who is at the time at a place where he or she has a legal right to be, the owner of such dog shall be liable in damages to the person so bitten or injured, but such liability shall arise only when the person so bitten or injured is upon property owned or controlled by the owner of such dog at the time such bite or injury occurs or when such person has been immediately prior to such time on such property and has been pursued therefrom by such dog.

    (Acts 1953, No. 320, p. 379, § 1.)

    § 3-6-2. When person deemed lawfully on property of owner of dog.

    For the purpose of this chapter a person shall be considered to be lawfully upon the private property of the owner of such dog when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws of the United States or the postal laws and regulations of the United States, when reading meters, when delivering milk, when making repairs to any public utility or service upon said premises or when on such property upon the invitation, either expressed or implied, of the owner or lessee of such property.

    (Acts 1953, No. 320, p. 379, § 3.)

    § 3-6-3. Mitigation of damages.

    The owner of such dog shall, however, be entitled to plead and prove in mitigation of damages that he had no knowledge of any circumstances indicating such dog to be or to have been vicious or dangerous or mischievous, and, if he does so, he shall be liable only to the extent of the actual expenses incurred by the person so bitten or injured as a result of the bite or injury.

    (Acts 1953, No. 320, p. 379, § 2.)

    § 3-6-4. Construction of chapter.

    Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as diminishing any right or liability for injury by dog bites now existing under the laws of this state.

    (Acts 1953, No. 320, p. 379, § 4.)

    Help Control Rabies

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.

  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.

  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free. Also, don’t leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.

  • Very Important- wild animals should never be kept as pets. They are a potential rabies threat to their owners and to others. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to the city or county animal control department. Don’t go near it yourself.

  • Remember: For most wild and exotic animals, there are no rabies vaccines available that have been shown to protect them.

  • More Information

    Center for Disease Control
    National Center for Infectious Diseases 
    Code of Alabama
    Rabies Control Laws 
     World Health Organization
    Worldwide Rabies Awareness Project

    Last Updated: 10/23/2014 11:50 AM
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