Think rabies is a thing of the past? Think again

(BPT) – Most of us know what rabies is, but it’s not something we think about often. Thanks to public health education, mandatory pet vaccinations and the wildlife oral rabies vaccination program, rabies cases in the U.S. have dropped dramatically in the past 15 years. But unfortunately this severe disease is still reported across the country, making rabies a continued public health threat. What do you need to know to keep your family, pets and community safe?

Controlling rabies cases

Although steps to control pet and wildlife rabies cases have reduced the risk to humans, rabies is still a threat because if it’s not treated immediately, it has the highest case-fatality rate of any infectious disease. Transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal, rabies can be prevented by prompt medical care. If exposure is suspected, contact your health care professional immediately.

Continued diligence in vaccination programs for pets, livestock and wildlife is needed to lower the threat of rabies. Make sure to keep your pets up to date on their immunizations and get involved in your community’s efforts in controlling the disease in the wildlife population.

Controlling and preventing rabies requires several proactive efforts. First, pet owners must understand the need for pets to get vaccinated on a regular basis. Second, seek immediate treatment if pets are bitten by an infected animal. Finally, efforts to decrease the disease among wild animals must be made.

Approximately 92 percent of all animal rabies cases in the United States occur in wildlife, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Animals that are most likely to be infected with rabies in the U.S. include raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Public health programs, such as those that vaccinate wildlife against rabies, help reduce rabies exposure and the spread of the disease to pets, livestock and people.

Wildlife treatment efforts

Managing rabies in the wildlife population is a complex task. Fifteen years ago the Federal government created a program that uses the first and only oral rabies vaccine for wildlife, RABORAL V-RG, to reduce this infectious disease.

“Oral rabies vaccines are provided to wild animals in the form of consumable baits,” explains Dr. Joanne Maki, veterinary public health technical director for Merial, maker of RABORAL V-RG. “These baits are placed strategically throughout the country where wildlife at risk of exposure to rabies will eat them. This approach has prevented rabies transmission in wild animals, particularly raccoons, coyote and foxes.  Vaccinating wildlife is a comprehensive approach that helps keep pets, livestock and people safe from rabies as well.”

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