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Together We Can Make Rabies History with World Rabies Day
by Hillary Frank, DVM, DABVP (Avian)

After record-high numbers of Rabies cases across Arizona in 2008 and 2009, the USDA management of wildlife and domestic pets has succeeded in reducing the numbers of rabid animals in this state. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is usually spread through bites from infected animals. It is always fatal in humans once symptoms appear, but treatment right after exposure prevents death. There is no treatment for unvaccinated pets, and if bitten by a potentially rabid animal, euthanasia may be required.

It is estimated that every year 30,000-40,000 US residents are potentially exposed to rabies which results in a month-long series of injections. Because of the recent outbreak in foxes and skunks in and around Flagstaff, Coconino County again had a month-long home quarantine for all local dogs and cats this summer. Pima and Cochise Counties also continue to post rabies advisories as animals test positive for the virus. Fortunately, we have less interaction with wildlife in the middle of Phoenix, but rabid wildlife is still found in our area. In the Phoenix area, bats are the most common source of rabies exposures to humans because rabid bats often fall to the ground where they are easily accessible to people and pets in neighborhoods and at schools.

Rabies in humans is completely preventable. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year - a rate of one person every ten minutes. This is three times the number of people that died from the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) pandemic in 2009. The most important global source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Children are often at greatest risk from rabies. In 2006, the global Alliance for Rabies Control created the World Rabies Day initiative. This year it is on Wednesday, September 28th. The goal is to raise awareness about the impact of human and animal rabies, how easy it is to prevent it, and how to eliminate the main global sources. Several vaccine manufacturers provide a one-for-one free Rabies vaccination in needy areas of the world for each one purchased in the United States.

Rabies prevention starts with the pet owner. Vaccinate dogs, cats, ferrets, and any other animal that has regular contact with humans, such as horses. Some common pets are not able to be vaccinated because no vaccine exists for those species. The law in Arizona requires that all dogs over the age of three months of age have a license and rabies vaccination. Cats are not legally required to be vaccinated, but are more likely to come in contact with sick wildlife, such as bats flapping on the ground. Indoor-only pets can also be exposed to rabid animals that enter through pet doors or bats that fly into the house. All bite or contact exposures to bats or other wild animals or domestic mammals (except for rodents and rabbits) should be reported immediately to local animal control or health officials.

Foxes, bats, and skunks are the most common wildlife to become rabid. Do not pick up or handle a sick or dead bat. Keep your pets vaccinated and avoid contact with wild animals. Additional information is available online at CDC.gov/rabies and WorldRabiesDay.org, or by calling your local health department or the ADHS Infectious Disease Services at (602) 364-4562.

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