Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Rabies Part 1

by User Not Found | Sep 23, 2012

As a hospital employee I am required to get a flu vaccination.  How nice of them to look out for me right?  Remember back in the day when you got the flu and no one really cared?  Well forget about swine, bird and megashark flu, let’s talk about an animal-associated virus that is so badass it will never need re-branding.  Rabies.


Since September 28 is World Rabies Day, we’re going to celebrate by educating ourselves.  Rabies affects 55,000 people nationwide and although only about two people will contract rabies in the United States, there will be on average 400-500 cases in dogs this year.  The only state that is considered “free of Rabies” is Hawaii, let’s go!  So when you are lecturing your four-legged friends to stop spending time with his raccoon (bats, fox, or skunk) friends and start making other doggie friends, it will be with good reason.  I could never watch Old Yeller as a kid, but when I grew up and saw Stephen King’s Cujo, I realized just how much that yellow ticking time bomb needed to die, and fast.


Just like the flu, rabies can cause fever and headaches.  This virus doesn't mess around, it goes straight for the brain.  Many years ago it was referred to as Canine Madness, not human because they were usually strapped to the bed.  It is usually transmitted by an animal bite and can strike you with acute pain and the inability to swallow, all while sending you to a most horrible death.  You get a vaccine within 48 hours, but by the time you start exhibiting symptoms, things can get bad, real bad, like you're gonna die (which is traditionally bad).  Luckily, the vaccine is no longer 20 shots to the gut, only six regular ones. Makes you want to go out and just get it just for the fun of it.  There has been only one documented case of survival, ever in a person infected with Rabies. 


In dogs, same rules apply.  Once clinical signs appear, Rabies is always fatal.  In science, there are theories, so you never have to commit to anything, but when a scientist tells you this WILL happen, that’s scary stuff, especially when it’s followed by die.  There is no test for Rabies, it can only be diagnosed after death by testing affected brain tissue.  Dogs who are showing signs of Rabies, like aggressive behavior, anxiousness, hypersensitivity to light and sound, seizures, and extreme vicious behavior.  The final stage of the disease is paralysis of the nerves that control the head and throat which makes them unable to swallow and prone to respiratory failure.  What's worse is that its completely unpredictable.  Time frames for a dog that is exposed to Rabies until they show signs of the disease vary from 9 days to 6 months.  Fun science Fact: This time frame may be dependent on how far away the bite is from the brain.  Seems logical...


Keeping in mind that it is state law in most places to get your dog a Rabies vaccine, the rules about how often you vaccinate and exposure vary from state to state, so make sure you know what applies to you!  Dogs, cats and ferrets can be vaccinated as early as 12 weeks of age and will need to be revaccinated again in a year.  Rabies vaccine is then administered every three years (or according to state laws, some still require annual vaccination).  We’ve discussed vaccines and “priming the pump” hence the one vs. three year, however it is essentially the same vaccine.  This virus is killed, so there is no risk of your dog getting the disease from the vaccine, whew!  Many animal control agencies and humane societies offer free or low-cost vaccinations, so there really is no excuse.  It is important to keep a Rabies certificate handy.  Tags can get lost, broken or chewed and without proper documentation, dogs may be subject to quarantine laws because of lack of proof of vaccination.   


In a world of titers and vaccination longevity debates, the one exception to vaccine "choice" is the rabies vaccine. It is the only vaccination required by law in the United States, as rabies is a fatal disease. It is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it may be transmitted from animals to humans, oh yay, we already knew that! There is no cure for rabies. Vaccinating for rabies will help an animal mount an immune system response to protect against rabies, but it isn't a curative treatment.  In Part 2 of this little trip, coming later this week, remember World Rabies Day!! we will talk about the legal implications when dealing with Rabies, yepbadass” also equals, “comes with its own set of politics.”

Until next time....


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