Missouri Warns Of Rabies Risks In Unvaccinated Pets
An official with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) today reminded Missourians to do all they can to protect their pets and themselves from the threat of rabies.
According to Dr. Howard Pue, State Public Health Veterinarian, vaccinating your pets is the best way to protect you and your family from the threat of rabies, because pets are a direct link between rabies in wildlife and people. Pue said this protection is particularly important now, because the United States is currently experiencing a limited supply of rabies vaccine that could be given to people after exposure to a rabid animal.
"The most important thing people can do to protect themselves, their families and their pets from rabies is to have their pets vaccinated," Pue said. "Pets can easily come into contact with a rabid animal, and then can in turn become a rabies risk to their owners," he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that due to a variety of regulatory and manufacturing issues, there is, temporarily, a limited supply of rabies vaccine for humans. In contrast, there is no shortage of rabies vaccine for pets, so they should receive initial and booster vaccinations as recommended by your veterinarian.
"This is a situation we need to take very seriously," Pue said. "Until more vaccine is available we face the possibility that someone who needs the vaccine might not be able to get it. That's why we need to do what we can to avoid people needing the vaccine, and that means making sure our pets are appropriately vaccinated," he added.
Pue said you also protect your pet's life by having it vaccinated. He said a pet that has not been appropriately vaccinated is likely to have to be destroyed if it has an encounter with a rabid animal so it will not be a risk to other animals or people.
"It's a tragedy to lose a beloved pet because it wasn't vaccinated," Pue said. "Now is the time to check with your veterinarian to see if your pets are due for their rabies vaccination."
According to Pue, Missouri is seeing a larger number of rabid wild animals this year. So far in 2008 the department has reports of 51 rabid animals: 46 bats, four skunks, and one horse. That compares to an average of 45 total animals as of this date over the past 5 years, with an average of 36 bats and 7 skunks for the same time period.
Pue said this year particularly, with the limited supply of rabies vaccine for humans, people need to do all they can to avoid the risk of rabies. He outlined the following steps people can take to minimize the threat of rabies:
* Ensure dogs, cats, and ferrets are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Vaccinations are also available for horses, cattle, and sheep. The effectiveness of animal vaccines is the main reason for the nationwide decline in rabies cases among people and domestic animals over the past several decades.
* Report wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior or stray pets to animal control officials.
* Keep pets under control and do not allow them to come in contact with wild animals. If a wild animal bites your pet, seek veterinary assistance for the pet immediately.
* Spay or neuter dogs and cats to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
* Avoid direct contact with wild animals:
o Enjoy animals such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
o Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
o Do not keep wild-domestic animal hybrids as pets; for example, a wolf-dog cross.
o Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas, where they might come in contact with people and pets.
o Do not release or discard a bat found inside a home, particularly if it was present in a room where people were sleeping or in the same room with children or adults who, due to their health or age, may not be able to describe the extent of their exposure. Instead, try to confine the bat to the room in which it was discovered and contact your local health department or animal control agency to get information regarding what to do with it.
* When traveling abroad, avoid direct contact with wild animals and be especially careful around dogs in developing countries. Rabies is common in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where dogs are the major reservoir of rabies. Tens of thousands of people die of rabies each year in these countries. Before traveling abroad, consult with a health care provider, travel clinic, or your local or state public health department about the risk of exposure to rabies, pre-exposure protection, and how you should handle an exposure in another country, should it happen.
Tips for Protecting Children
Children suffer a disproportionate number of bites from animals, often resulting in serious injury to the face, head, and neck. The following tips can help children avoid being bitten, and the resulting physical/mental trauma and potential exposure to rabies and other diseases that accompany bites:
* Teach children never to approach or handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.
* Never run from a dog or scream at it.
* Report stray dogs or cats and wild animals that are behaving in an unusual manner to an adult.
* Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. It is common to want to rescue and nurse a hurt animal, but that animal may have rabies or bite viciously out of fear and pain. Ask an adult for help with the animal.
* Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
* If bitten, report the bite to an adult immediately.
Anyone who has been bitten by an animal, particularly a stray dog or cat or a wild animal, should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 10 to 15 minutes. If possible, and without further injury, try to capture or confine the biting animal so that it can be quarantined or tested for rabies (depending upon the species of biting animal). If the animal is destroyed, avoid damaging the head since the brain is the only specimen that can be tested for the presence of the rabies virus. Persons should contact their physician to see if medical care (antibiotics, tetanus booster, etc.) is needed, and to have a rabies risk assessment made.
If the risk of rabies is high, the physician may determine that the patient needs the anti-rabies series of shots. Persons bitten by animals should also contact their local health department to seek assistance in obtaining proper disposition of the biting animal. The local health department will determine if action is needed, such as quarantine of the animal or euthanasia and testing for the presence of rabies virus.