years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Rabies is a fatal infectious disease that is caused by a VIRUS, which primarily affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It can affect most warm blooded animals, including people. Birds and reptiles do not carry rabies.
Where does rabies occur?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately half of the world's population lives in areas where rabies still occurs. Around 55,000 people die of rabies each year, mostly in poorer parts of Africa and Asia. Rabies has been virtually eliminated from Europe, North America, and large parts of South America.
How is rabies spread?
Bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, dogs and cats are amongst the most likely sources of the rabies virus. However, the domestic dog is the most common source of rabies for people. Around 7 million people per year are treated for rabies following a bite from a suspected infected dog. However, only around 15% of people who are bitten by an infected animal will go on to develop the disease.
Animals carry the rabies virus in their nervous system, and shed the virus in their saliva. The virus is spread to other animals and people primarily through bites or scratches from an infected animal. Rarely infection can occur if saliva from an infected animal gets into a fresh wound, or mucous membrane (ie the mouth, eye, or nose).
You CANNOT get rabies by petting or stroking an animal, having a dog bark or jump up at you, touching things an animal was sitting or lying on, or from a bite or scratch from an animal that does not have rabies.
What are the symptoms of rabies in animals?
After infection with the virus, there is an INCUBATION PERIOD before the animal starts showing signs of disease, the length of which depends on where the animal was bitten and how much virus it received. Normally this period is around 2-8 weeks, but can be up to 6 months in dogs.
The early signs of disease include changes in behaviour – the animal may become more aggressive or more friendly than normal. Often the animal will lick continuously at the infected bite. After 2-3 days, animals may begin to roam, become very aggressive, and appear uncoordinated; dogs sometimes may scratch at their muzzle and make mouthing actions as if they have a stick caught between their teeth. In the later stages animals lose their ability to swallow, and salivate excessively. The animal will quickly become very sick, and will eventually become paralyzed and die a very painful death from respiratory failure.
How can you tell if a dog or cat has rabies?
Dogs with rabies will usually show a CHANGE in behaviour, for example a normally docile dog may become aggressive, a normally aggressive dog may become unusually friendly. If a dog that is showing signs of aggression is NORMALLY aggressive, it probably doesn't have rabies. Cats show similar signs.
After death, the most reliable way of telling if an animal has died of rabies involves the removal and examination of the brain in a laboratory.
Can a dog or cat with rabies be treated?
Once a dog or cat starts to develop signs of rabies, there is no treatment, and the animal will die.
Can healthy dogs and cats be protected against rabies?
Yes. Vaccines are available and are very effective in preventing rabies. Dogs and cats are normally initially vaccinated at 3-4 months of age, and require regular booster vaccinations. You should consult your veterinarian for up-to-date advice, and remember to keep rabies vaccinations for your pet up to date.
What are the symptoms of rabies in people?
The speed with which symptoms develop in infected people depend on where the person was bitten, and how much virus they got. Early symptoms of rabies in people include irritability, headache, fever, and an itching at the site of exposure (normally a bite wound). A fear of water (Hydrophobia) may develop. Within a few days, the disease progresses to paralysis, spasma of the throat muscles, convulsions and seizures, delirium, and deatn.
Can people be treated for rabies?
Once symptoms start to develop in people, there is no effective treatment.
So how do we prevent infection in people?
The best way to prevent rabies in people is to try and reduce the chance of people getting bitten by infected dogs and cats. Programmes of dog and cat culling have never been effective methods of eliminating rabies, and result in the unnecessary death of many animals. By far the best way of controlling rabies is through a carefully planned dog/cat vaccination programme, along with population control using trap-neuter-release (TNR) schemes for feral dogs and cats, and a public education programme to ensure people know how to act responsibly. You can play your part by ensuring your pets' rabies vaccinations are always up to date, getting your pets neutered to reduce roaming and prevent unwanted puppies/kittens, and stopping your pet contacting wild animals. Avoid approaching, teasing or handling unknown dogs and cats, and teach your children responsible behaviour around animals. If your own dog or cat is bitten or becomes sick, consult your veterinarian.
People who are most at risk of being bitten by dogs that might be infected (eg vets) are often vaccinated against the disease. The vaccines help to reduce the chance of the disease developing,
If someone does get bitten or scratched by a dog or cat, the wound should be thoroughly washed with soap and water as soon as possible, and a doctor should be consulted. If there is a suspicion that the animal was infected with rabies, the disease can prevented from developing by a series of injections given as soon as possible after the bite. If you know the whereabouts of the animal that has bitten you, let the authorities know as soon as possible; NEVER try and catch or follow an animal you think might have rabies.
RABIES IS AN ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE DISEASE
CULLING DOGS IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE WAY OF CONTROLLING RABIES
VACCINATION OF PETS AND PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH ANIMALS IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF RABIES CONTROL
“There are many effective measures that can be taken to control and prevent rabies in China, for example promoting responsible ownership, mass vaccination, improving rabies vaccine quality in China and keeping rural animals out of urban areas. Mass culling appears to be an easy option for rabies control but its ineffectiveness has been proved by collaborative studies in many countries” - Professor Zu, Epidemiology professor at An Hui University