For years, rabies was considered incurable. Sure the disease could be prevented from occurring (via rabies shots) but once the disease manifested itself symptomatically, rabies was considered terminal. But several years ago, a Wisconsin girl, who contracted rabies by picking up an infected bat, was successfully treated. An article in Scientific American http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=jeanna-giese-rabies-survivor reviews the case.
Not only did she survive the infection, but she has recovered to “normal” function. More recently, a California girl, also recovered (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm6104.pdf)
Rabies and You
I have two main points with this post. First, we continue to learn more about this ancient zoonotic disease. Second, don’t assume that becuase progress toward post exposure treatment has occurred that we can be less vigilant about protecting ourselves from this infection.
The fact is for 99.99% of the cases, rabies is terminal. So employment of the following strategies will go a long way in protecting you and your family from this infection.
1. Vaccinate all pets. While many people do vaccinate their dogs, for some reason people are less responsible about their cats. A quick look at the Centers for Disease Control’s map comparing the rabies cases of dogs (yellow) and cats (red) in the U.S. (2009) is somewhat startling http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/resources/publications/2009-surveillance/cats-and-dogs.html but not unexpected. House cats are allowed to free-range more than dogs due to owner complaincency and the view that cats don’t pose a public health threat (an idea shown to be a myth by toxoplasmosis).
2. Avoid Wildlife. Most exposures to rabies are NOT initiated by the infected animal. It is the human that approaches the animal. So the idea that rabid animals are hunting people to infect is simply false. Many exposures are caused by people looking to “help” the animal.
3. Be Aware of Crypto Exposures. Crypto exposures are hidden or unknown expsosures. Bat bites are the most common form of crypto-exposures to rabies. Protect yourself and your family by being familiar with the protocols for handling bats found inside the “living space” of your home (living space is different than your attic and walls).
4. Get Treatment. If you think you were exposed to a bite or found a bat in your living space, contact medical authorities. Rabies is preventable when treated.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a certified wildlife control professional. He specializes in wildlife damage management issues and is available for articles, interviews, research, and educational events. He may be contacted via e-mail stephenvantassel(at)hotmail(dot)com