||A COMMON SENSE APPROACH
TO RABIES: DON'T PANIC
WHAT IS RABIES? Written references to rabies date
back thousands of years!
Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of an
infected animal. Contrary to popular myth, there are no carriers
of rabies, all infected animals are sick animals. Although any mammal
can contract all forms of rabies, there are five distinct strains
(bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, and canine (coyote & domestic dog) of
which the animal(s) indicated in the strain are most susceptible
to it, and unless vaccinated a large portion of that species population
will die during a rabies outbreak. In 1993, for example, we saw
an epizootic of raccoon rabies in Connecticut.
Any mammal can contract any form of rabies, but raccoons, skunks,
fox and woodchucks seem most susceptible to the raccoon strain.
Bat rabies has always occurred at a low level in the bat population
and researchers indicate that less that 1% of the bat population
is infected with rabies.
The few human deaths attributed to rabies annually (average: two
a year nationwide) have been largely due to the bat strain or other
strains contracted overseas. Worldwide, dogs account for at least
90% of all human deaths from rabies. Statistically speaking, Connecticut
residents stand a far greater risk of dying from a lightning strike
or food poisoning than from rabies. According to the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention, not a single human death has resulted
from exposure to a rabid raccoon.
Being bitten by a rabid animal is not fatal, as long as you promptly
undergo post-exposure treatment (a series of shots in the arm).
If given promptly, post-exposure rabies shots are 100% effective
against the virus.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF RABIES IN WILD ANIMALS? It's a myth
that raccoons seen during daylight hours must be rabid. It is not
unusual for healthy mother raccoons with hungry babies to search
for extra food during the day, and raccoons can often be seen sunbathing
in trees. Raccoons will forage for food along coastlines whenever
low tide occurs. Only if a raccoon or other wild animal is acting
strange or sick - convulsing, circling, appearing disoriented or
partly paralyzed, showing signs of unprovoked aggression or uncharacteristic
tameness - people should call their animal control officer or police.
HOW IS RABIES TRANSMITTED? People have exaggerated fears
about rabies. The reality is that the rabies virus is not airborne
and cannot penetrate intact skin. You can only get rabies via
a bite from a rabid animal or through scratches, abrasions,
open wounds or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or
brain tissue from a rabid animal. The rabies virus is short-lived
when exposed to open air; thus the virus cannot survive in saliva
that has dried up. The arbitrary killing of raccoons has been
proven to be an ineffective tactic in eradicating rabies from
a particular area. In reality, raccoons that are trapped and
killed are usually healthy animals.
Studies of raccoons in epizootic areas indicate that more than 20%
of the raccoon population have a natural immunity to rabies, according
too the Rabies Unit for the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthy, naturally immune individuals should be left in the population
to act as a buffer for humans and pets.
IS THERE A VACCINE AVAILABLE FOR WILDLIFE? Yes! An oral rabies
vaccine has been available for the past 30 years. And 1984 a genetically
engineered oral rabies vaccine (raboral V-RG) was developed by Dr.
Charles Rupprecht of the Wistar Institute in Pennsylvania and it
has been used successfully worldwide. Dr. Rupprecht is currently
the director of the Rabies Unit of the Center for Disease Control
and Prevention. Fox rabies has been virtually eliminated in Europe
due to the distribution of an oral rabies vaccine. This vaccine
is being distributed in many parts of the United Sated and Canada.
Connecticut is one of only a few states that is not currently participating
in the campaign to eradicate rabies from the U.S. Massachusetts,
Rhode Island, New York and Vermont are a few of the Northeastern
states currently distributing this oral rabies vaccine. It is even
being used in Mexico and India to help control the spread of dog
rabies. Distribution is currently limited to state wildlife agencies
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Please contact your state and federal legislators to encourage adoption
of an oral rabies vaccine program in Connecticut. Rabies can and
will be eradicated from the U.S. with proper funding and cooperation
between individual states.
Check out the following websites and subscribe to the "Rabies Reporter":
IS THERE A VACCINE AVAILABLE FOR PEOPLE? IS IT PAINFUL?
Most people working in animal rescue, both wild and domestic,
choose to get vaccinated against rabies. Pre-exposure vaccination
consists of a series of three painless injections in your arm.
A booster shot is usually given every other year.
Pre-exposure vaccinations protect us against inadvertent exposure
only. If you are bitten by a wild animal, particularly a rabies
vector species (skunk, raccoon or fox) or an unvaccinated domestic
animal, you will need to begin a two-shot post-exposure treatment
promptly! Pre-exposure immunization does not eliminate the need
for post-exposure treatment; it only reduces the cost and the number
of shots required for post-exposure treatment.
The bottom line: Use common sense and don't be careless about
Vaccinate your pets against rabies, leave wild animals alone, and
don't panic at the mere sight of a raccoon! If you are bitten by
a wild animal or an unvaccinated domestic animal wash your wound
well with warm water and soap and promptly call your doctor or local
health department for advice about treatment.
For those interested in becoming wildlife rehabilitators or those
prone to animal rescues and needing the three shot pre-exposure
vaccine call UCONN's vaccination clinic at (860) 679-4225 ask for
Liz or Joan. Or, you can set up an appointment at Danbury Hospital's
Infectious Disease Unit (203) 797-7000 or (203) 797-7413 or Norwalk
Hospital Corporate Health Care (203) 852-2417 or have your doctor
order the Human Diploid Cell (HDCV) from 1(800)-VACCINE. Be sure
you receive the intra-muscular injection.
THANK YOU FOR CARING ABOUT CONNECTICUT'S WILDLIFE!!!
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