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Rabies is still a threat worldwide and in Missouri. In the U.S., it has been reported in nearly every state. This summer, the Missouri Health Department reported that one of the showhorses, shown in the Saddlebred Show and stabled in Barn C, had contracted the disease. The horse was noticeably sick on Aug. 17 and died two days later.
This year, U.S. experts on rabies are warning that there is more reason to be vigilant than ever. In Medical News Today, Aug. 27, 2008, Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said that due to a variety of regulatory and manufacturing issues, there is, temporarily, a limited supply of rabies vaccine for humans. It is more important than ever to vaccinate pets.
“The best way to limit the need for human rabies vaccine is simply to make sure pets are vaccinated. We know that dogs and cats are not the most common animals found rabid in the United States, but they are the animals most frequently involved in multiple human exposures,” he explains. “Your local veterinarian plays a key role in controlling rabies.’
Unfortunately, cats are less likely than dogs to be vaccinated against the virus and Dr. Rupprecht added that cat owners are more likely to be exposed to rabies. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s “U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook” states that only 64 percent of cats visit a veterinarian every year, compared to 83 percent of dogs.
Any mammal can get rabies, including humans. Infected bats, monkeys, raccoons, foxes, skunks, dogs or cats provide the greatest risk to humans, however the disease can also spread through exposure to infected domestic farm animals. The disease is 100 percent deadly in any species once the animal starts showing signs of the disease.
Over 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the United States are wild animals commonly seen in neighborhoods and backyards, such as raccoons, skunks and bats. (A person can be bitten by a bat and not even feel it, so awareness is important.) Pets are the barrier between those animals and loved ones. By protecting pets, individuals are also protecting their loved ones.
Besides ensuring that all dogs, cats and ferrets get vaccinated, other precautionary measures include: don’t let pets roam free, don’t feed or water pets outside as stray animals are attracted even to empty bowls, and cover your garbage cans securely to keep raccoons away.
If any animal bites your pet, take it to the veterinarian immediately and contact Animal Control if it was from a stray animal. Report any stray animals and any strange behavior among animals to city or county animal control officers. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound thoroughly and see your physician immediately. You should also report the bite to your local health department.
Rabies kills over 55,000 people every year, mostly in Africa and Asia. Over half of those killed are children under the age of 15. Millions of animals die after contracting the virus through a bite, or saliva from an infected animal entering a wound. The virus is 100 percent preventable and that prevention is available through getting pets vaccinated.