World Rabies Day is September 28 – and did you know why? It is the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur, the renowned scientist who helped develop the first rabies vaccine. This annual observance aims to raise awareness about the global impact of human and animal rabies.

Here in the United States, the majority of rabies cases occur in wild animals. In other parts of the world, particularly Africa, that isn’t the case. That’s why about 70,000 people die every year from rabies.

While most of the rabies cases here in the U.S. are seen in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes, in other countries, dog bites are the most common mode of transmission of rabies to humans. Because generally children are more likely than adults to be the victims of dog bites, nearly half of the 70,000 annual deaths from rabies are children under the age of 15.  

Just because we don’t see human or canine rabies cases as frequently as other countries do, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant about it. In fact, it is all the more reason to keep those numbers low. The easiest way to avoid the problem is to make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies. The rabies vaccine is highly effective, but unfortunately, not all pet parents are vigilant about keeping their pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccines.

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For this reason, and because wild animals are not vaccinated, be sure to follow these guidelines, and teach them to children, as well:

  • Never approach a dog or cat without its owner present.
  • Never feed or handle a wild animal.
  • If you see a loose dog in your neighborhood, teach kids to tell an adult, who can call animal control. It could just be that the dog is lost and needs some help to get home, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Report all animals that are acting strangely. Drooling, excessive biting and very tame, fearless behavior are clear signs to watch for.
  • Teach your kids that if they encounter a stray dog, don’t run – instead, act like a tree. Teach them to stand still and hold their branches (arms and legs) close to their bodies. Running may invite an unwanted chase.

Around 40,000 people a year get post-exposure prophylactic shots due to potential rabies exposure. If you think there’s even a tiny chance that you or your children may have been exposed to rabies, contact your doctor or pediatrician. Early intervention is key in preventing death from rabies. If you think your pet has been exposed, even if he’s vaccinated, call your veterinarian for advice.

Oct 5, 2012
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