Usually, when a person thinks of the word ‘rabies,’ it triggers an image of a dog with a wild look in its eyes, foaming at the mouth. There is some truth to this terrifying depiction, but rabies does more than just affect dogs. It can affect other animals and people, as well. Did you know that approximately 59,000 people are killed by rabies each year? There are also more symptoms of rabies than people may realize. Have other questions concerning rabies? We are here to help and to bring awareness on World Rabies Day. Continue reading to discover more facts and information about the disease, as well as how World Rabies Day was started and what other people worldwide are doing to save the lives of dogs and people!
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is a viral infection spread by the saliva of infected animals that affects saliva and the nervous system. One common misconception about rabies is that it only affects dogs and turns them rabid, but rabies can also affect animals like cats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and bats. Most people recognize that they can contract rabies when an infected animal has bitten a person or another animal. While this is most often the case, rabies is transmitted by contact with infected saliva, which can include scratches or open wounds, not just bites.
In the early years, people were unsure how to deal with rabies and resorted to brutal methods or “home” remedies to cure affected people. Most of these, as you can imagine, were not successful. The first rabies vaccine was developed by a man named Louis Pasteur, a chemist and microbiologist, and was used to treat a young boy who had been attacked by a rabid dog in 1885. After multiple injections for several days, he recovered. Since then, the rabies vaccine has been further tested and developed into what we use today to vaccinate animals and provide a cure for people.
Since rabies can affect animals and people, it is beneficial to understand both symptoms. If one were to see a rabid dog, the dog might be staggering or experience seizures, have difficulty swallowing, and be excessively drooling. If you see any signs of these symptoms in dogs or other wild animals, it is best to stay away from those animals.
If a person has been bitten or exposed to the saliva of an infected animal, here are some symptoms a person might have: pain or spasms in their muscles, dizziness, fever, irritability, mental confusion or hallucinations, nausea, headache, or loss of appetite. These are just a few of the more common symptoms. Fortunately, some treatments can help, and much research is being done to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies.
Prevention and Treatment
Early prevention in dogs can be done by keeping up with their yearly shots, one of which is for rabies. This is the best way to protect your dog and others from getting rabies. But what if someone else does not get their dog vaccinated yearly? One thing that a person can do is report stray animals to local animal control offices as a safety measure. Especially for adults with children, it is best to have children taught to stay away from strange pets and wild animals. This cautionary step could save a child’s life!
If a person is bitten or scratched by an animal, particularly a dog, the World Health Organization recommends that they: “1. Wash the wound immediately with soap or detergent. 2. Flush the wound thoroughly for 15 minutes with copious amounts of water. 3. Apply an iodine-containing or anti-viral medication to the wound 15 minutes after it has been washed and flushed. 4. Avoid applying irritants to the wounds, such as chili powder, plant juices, acids, and alkalis. 5. Avoid covering the wound with dressings or bandages. 6. Seek transportation to a healthcare facility for further assessment and treatment by a healthcare professional.”
According to the AVMA, another important thing that should be done is to request proof of the dog's rabies vaccination and get the owner's information. For people in the U.S., this step will tell emergency staff how to proceed with treatment. If the dog has proof of current vaccines, they will not have to give a person a rabies vaccine.
There isn’t much that doctors can do once the symptoms start, which is why there is such a focus on prevention while better cures are still being researched and tested. If a person thinks they have been exposed to rabies, doctors can give two shots: rabies immune globulin and a specific rabies vaccine given in four doses over fourteen days. It is essential that all dog bites be reported to law enforcement and animal control. In fact, many states require that dog bites be reported. If the dog is not current on rabies vaccinations, the dog may need to be quarantined and observed to watch for signs of rabies.
What is World Rabies Day?
World Rabies Day was started in 2007 as a way to raise awareness of the rabies disease, its effects on people and animals around the world, and ways to help prevent this disease and lower the number of those that get infected (and, especially, the number of deaths each year). September 28th, 2023, will be the 17th World Rabies Day celebrated. The theme for 2023 is: “All for 1, One Health for All.” It is a global health observance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, they state, “World Rabies Day is an opportunity to reflect on how rabies impacts your community and other communities around the world. Rabies is still present in many parts of the United States, where it is mostly found in wildlife. Because of high vaccination levels in dogs and cats in the U.S., rabies in pets or other domesticated animals is relatively rare. However, rabies in dogs is common in many other countries. In fact, roughly a quarter of reported human rabies deaths among people in the United States result from dog bites they received during international travel. The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your pets is to keep dogs and cats up to date on their rabies vaccinations. You can also protect yourself and your family by traveling smartly and avoiding contact with dogs and other animals that may have rabies when you travel outside the country. Find out the rabies status of any country you may be visiting using CDC’s interactive assessment site.”
Rabies is not something that should be taken lightly. When in doubt, stay away from stray dogs and wild animals, even if they seem okay or even act overly friendly. They could be carrying the disease and turn on a person without warning. If this thought makes you scared, it should.
Remember, if a person is bitten: If the dog's owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination and get the owner's name and contact information. Clean the bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible. Consult your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if it's after office hours. And finally, contact the dog's veterinarian to check vaccination records.
A lot of work still needs to be done scientifically to help people and animals that do get rabies. But the best thing overall that a dog owner can do is keep their pets updated on their shots and practice caution around other dogs and animals! Participate in events like World Rabies Day and help spread awareness about the importance of the rabies vaccine. Still, have questions or concerns? Knowledge is power! Ask local vets or parks in a community what they are doing to raise awareness and prevent cases of wild dogs or animals from coming around children or other healthy dogs. Search for other information to recognize when an animal has rabies and report them to the authorities or animal control. Ensure that children know what to look out for and be cautious when out playing or in wooded areas. These are things that you can do now to fight and protect against rabies!