What You Need to Know About Rabies
Rabies is a viral disease which is very rare in the United States, but which can be very common in other parts of the world. This is especially true in third world countries where vaccination is not a common component of public health. The Rabies virus can be carried by any warm-blooded animal (mammals). The most common species in the United States which carry the virus are foxes, raccoons, skunks, bats, cats, dogs, horses. Squirrels, rabbits, and rodents are very unlikely to transmit Rabies virus. To be absolutely safe, any contact with wildlife or stray animals is not recommended because of the potential of exposure to rabies when handling these animals.
Transmission of the disease is almost always via saliva in a bite or scratch wound. There have been rare reports of transmission by aerosol in large bat caves and in corneal transplants. The virus travels from the bite or scratch wound through the nerve endings to the brain. The virus does not travel in the blood stream. The journey of the virus to the brain generally takes 3-8 weeks in dogs, 2-6 weeks in cats, and 3-6 weeks in humans. Once the virus is in the brain, clinical symptoms start. The virus then travels to the salivary glands where the virus can be spread through the saliva to the next victim.
Symptoms of Rabies are divided into 3 stages. The first stage is called the Prodromal Phase. It can last 2-3 days and is characterized by aloofness, fever, anxiety, constant licking of the wound, and the animal may be extremely affectionate. The second stage is called the Furious Phase and can last 1-7 days. This is the classic symptoms of aggression, attacking for no reason, no fear of humans, hypersensitivity to light and sound, and fear of water. The animal is most likely to expose another animal at this phase. They could die in this phase. Some animals progress to the third stage which is called the Dumb Phase. This phase is characterized by labored breathing, choking, drooling. They quickly die once this phase begins.
Diagnosis of an animal with rabies can only be done by testing the brain of the dead animal microscopically. There is no treatment for rabies. It is a fatal disease. Once an animal or human shows signs of rabies, the disease has already progressed too far and the animal will succumb to the disease within 10 days. As a result, public health departments and public health laws focus very intensely on prevention. Vaccination of dogs and cats by 6 months of age is the primary focus of Delaware State Rabies Laws (Del. Code Title 3, chap. 82). In the State of Delaware, the first vaccination of cats and dogs older than 12 weeks with a rabies vaccine is good for 1 year, and subsequent vaccinations can be good for 3 years depending on the vaccine used. Horses and ferrets can be vaccinated for a maximum of one year. Cows, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, and hamsters are not typically vaccinated. Wolf-hybrids are considered wild animals and they cannot be vaccinated for rabies. Each state has its own laws and regulations pertaining to rabies vaccinations so anyone moving an animal from one state to another state or country must check with that new location to see what the rabies requirements are for that location. Your veterinarian can help you to obtain that information. The requirement for dogs to be licensed by six months of age through the Kent County SPCA in Kent County and the Sussex County Offices in Sussex County require those dogs to have a valid rabies certificate with a veterinarian’s signature.
If an unvaccinated/ expired vaccine animal is bitten by a wild animal or a domestic animal with unknown/expired rabies vaccination, that bitten animal is required to be placed on 6 month rabies quarantine or to be euthanized. This isolates the animal from animal and human exposure while the potential disease develops in the animal. It can take up to 6 months for an animal to show clinical signs of rabies. Once they show those signs, they will be dead within 10 days if they do in fact have rabies. If the biting animal in the above situation is available for quarantine, that animal can be placed on 10 day quarantine to see in signs of rabies develop.
If a currently vaccinated pet is bitten by an animal of unknown vaccine status, then that pet is placed on a 45 day home quarantine after getting a rabies booster vaccine. If the biting animal is available, then the biting animal can be placed into a 10 day quarantine to see if it develops signs of rabies.
If a human is bitten by an animal with or without a current rabies vaccine, that animal will be placed on 10 day quarantine and the human victim will be sent to the doctor to have the appropriate medical attention. If the quarantined animal is alive in 10 days, then the human victim as not been exposed to rabies from that animal. If the quarantined animal does die within the 10 day quarantine period, then the Delaware State Lab will test the brain of the dead animal to confirm rabies and then they will notify the victim that further medical treatment at their doctor may be needed.
Rabies is a deadly disease and needs to be taken seriously. All dogs and cats should be vaccinated for rabies and those vaccines need to be kept up to date. Delaware State Code pertaining to rabies is Title 3, Chapter 82. Thanks for choosing Brenford Animal Hospital for your veterinary care.