A Personal Story:
My parents live about 20 miles outside of Carlsbad, N.M. The other night, my mom let her 2 small dogs out to go to the bathroom. One of the dogs attacked something on the porch. It was a bat, and the bat was dying. Her dog bit the bat she thinks, but it is unknown if her dog received a bite or scratch from the bat. She gave the dog a bath and checked her over for any wounds. Nothing was found, but the mouth of a bat is so small, I wonder if a bite could even be found.
She took both dogs to the vet immediately the next morning and had their rabies vaccine boosted. They were both already current on their shots and always have been, but it is protocol to re-vaccinate a potentially exposed animal. The bat was sent out for testing and it came back POSITIVE for rabies.
So now her dog will be on home quarantine for 45 days while monitoring for signs of rabies. So far, about 3 weeks in, she is doing well and should hopefully be ok. If she had not been current on rabies vaccine, she would have been euthanized. The point in telling you this story is that even though you rarely hear of rabies cases, they are more frequent than you would imagine. Educating yourself about this deadly disease is extremely important, especially when you work in the veterinary field. This blog will be a review about the rabies virus.
What is rabies and how is it transmitted? It is a bullet-shaped virus from the family Rhabdoviridae and genus Lyssavirus. Transmission occurs only through contact with saliva or brain/nervous tissue.
Is it treatable? Rabies is a 100% fatal disease. If there is a possible human exposure, then post-exposure prophylaxis is started, consisting of an immunoglobulin injection and 4 vaccines within a 2-week period. Those that die from rabies are those that do not seek medical care or did not know about their exposure. There is no post-exposure treatment for pets. For humans that have already been previously vaccinated, the vaccine is usually just boostered. It is always best to contact your local health authorities and your doctor if a potential exposure occurs.
What is the protocol for animals that may have been exposed?
1) Animals that are current on their rabies vaccine and have been exposed to rabies (as discussed above) are re-vaccinated and put on home quarantine for 45 days.
2) Pets that are exposed and not vaccinated for rabies should be euthanized and tested. If the owner refuses, the pet must be put on 6 month strict isolation and vaccinated 1 month prior to release. If they have had rabies vaccines in the past but are not current, this same protocol should be followed or evaluated case-by-case. Visit the CDC website for more information: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/pets/index.html
3) If a domestic pet bites a human and is not vaccinated, it should be euthanized and tested, or quarantined for 10 days to monitor for signs of rabies. If an animal bites because of rabies, it should be showing clinical symptoms within that time period. The rabies virus must make its way from the area of exposure (such as a bite) up to the brain tissue. This can be a slow process, which is why animals that have potentially been exposed must be quarantined for 45 days or longer, and not just the 10 day period.
Direct fluorescent antibody testing is done on brain tissue. This is why the head must be submitted for testing on animals.
Rabies surveillance 2010
Here is a pdf article from Javma on Rabies surveillance from 2010. Take a moment to read this interesting journal article. rabiesjavma2010
When clients talk to you about vaccines, encourage them to vaccinate their pets for Rabies. It is required by law for dogs, and for cats in some states. Unless there is a serious medical reason why an animal should not be vaccinated (severe reactions, autoimmune disease, etc.), all dogs and most cats should be vaccinated.
image courtesy of Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_free-tailed_bat