We had a rabies scare in our office a few days ago. Again. This time, it was an unvaccinated outdoor cat was brought in after developing neurologic signs that caused concern in two women and a small troop of children, all who had handled the cat in their attempts to help it. The cat bit two of our staff members. With rabies, one can never be too safe: unvaccinated + neurologic = rabies suspect.
I work in a rabies endemic area, which means that our local wildlife population is harboring this deadly virus. Almost every week our local newspaper has a report of a rabid skunk, raccoon or fox that has been identified in a surrounding neighborhood. At least twice a year we see a potential rabies case, typically an unvaccinated outdoor cat with neurologic signs. A few years ago, one such outdoor cat did have rabies, resulting in post-exposure treatment for six of our staff. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that being an indoor only pet is an adequate way to prevent an exposure. There are several instances of rabid, bizarrely behaving wildlife making their way indoors and exposing indoor pets. After all , a neurologic bat is an irresistible plaything to any cat.
I, personally, have a healthy respect (read: fear) for the rabies virus. Rabies is an amazingly devious virus. Like something created in an evil villain’s science lab, it is perfectly designed to maximize its spread. Once in a new victim, the rabies virus travels to the brain and the saliva glands. The brain - in order to create the aggressive behavior that we all associate with rabies, and the saliva glands – in order to ensure it is spread via a bite wound. It is terrifying and genius – all in one.
Interestingly, many people are reluctant to give their pets the rabies vaccine. Perhaps, because of the scariness of virus itself, the vaccine carries with it a certain uncertainty in some circles. Or, what we see more frequently, because of a false belief that “it could never happen to my pet.” I can assure you that the disease the vaccine prevents is far worse than any vaccine reaction I’ve ever seen. And this disease is too serious to leave to hope and chance. The rabies vaccine is one of the only vaccines we give that prevents a disease that can infect people as well, and in my state of Pennsylvania, and most others, this fact alone makes it a law for pets to have the rabies vaccine. For me, all of my pets, indoor cats included, are vaccinated against rabies, and I rest easy knowing that I never have to worry.