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Myths & Facts About Rabies

The rabies virus infects the body’s central nervous system, causing brain disease and death1. Early signs of rabies infection may seem like general illness, such as fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. Shortly thereafter, however, more specific and recognizable symptoms begin to emerge1. Insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, agitation and hydrophobia are among the most common symptoms1. Within days of these symptoms appearing, death is likely to occur. Despite the thorough knowledge we currently possess about the virus, there is a vast amount of misinformation that has spread throughout communities. It is the goal of this post to quickly clarify some of these misconceptions in order to ensure the safety of you, your family, and your pets.

Myth: Rabies is not something that you need to worry about2.
Fact: United States residents are currently reaping the benefits of rabies vaccination laws, which have severely reduced the threat and prevalence of canine rabies. However, rabies still exists in the United States. Humans can contract rabies if they come into contact with other potential carriers. Foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats are still common carriers of rabies and should not be interacted with in the wild.

Myth: Rabies can only be transmitted by bites3.
Fact: While bites are the most common vehicle of transmission, the virus itself is passed through an infected animal’s saliva. This means that rabies may also be transmitted through open wounds, scratches, abrasions, or through mucus membranes of the mouth. Also, if an individual comes into contact with the brain tissue of an infected animal, contraction is a possibility. Although rabies is NOT contracted by simply petting an infected animal, it is best to play it safe and avoid all physical contact with such animals.

Myth: Indoor animals do not need to be vaccinated2.
Fact: Just like any other pet, indoor cats, dogs, and ferrets should all be vaccinated. You never know what the future may hold and there is always a risk of your pet coming in contact with the outdoors (no matter how careful a pet-owner you are). For instance, your pet could escape from the house, or, if your pet must go to a new home, future owners may regularly take them outdoors. Even if you keep your pet inside, one risk can be bats coming into the house, and most of the time you will not know if your pet came into contact with the bat. To protect your beloved pets from all possibilities, vaccination is your best option. Also, its good to note that the rabies vaccine is required by law in some states, such as New York.

Myth: I’ve already had my pet vaccinated once, so I don’t need to do it again3.
Fact: Rabies vaccine will protect your dog or cat from 1-3 years, depending on vaccine history of your pet and the type of rabies vaccine given. Getting a booster shot should be incorporated into your pet’s annual wellness visit to the veterinarian in order to insure they are protected at all times.

Myth: If you are bitten by a rabid animal, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself1.
Fact: Any bite from a rabid animal should be treated with medical urgency, meaning that decisions should not be delayed. Immediately wash the wound with soap and warm water for about 15 minutes. Afterwards, seek medical attention. There is a series of vaccines you can receive, called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which can reduce your risk of contracting the virus and lessen the effects of any symptoms.

Take-Away Points

  • While the risk for rabies is not as prevalent in the USA, the virus should still be taken seriously and avoided.
  • All pets—indoor and outdoor, cat, dog, or ferret—should be vaccinated against rabies.
  • Your pet should receive a booster shot every year at their annual vet visit.
  • Rabies can be transmitted through more than just bites.
  • Foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats are common, wild carriers of rabies.
  • If you are bitten, quickly wash your wound and seek medical attention.

Sites Referenced

  1. “Rabies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Oct. 2016, www.cdc.gov/rabies/.
  2. Laura Cross | September 28, 2016. “7 Myths You Shouldn't Believe About Rabies.” Vetstreet, www.vetstreet.com/our-pet- experts/7-myths- you-shouldnt- believe-about- rabies.
  3. HCDCP, www2.keelpno.gr/blog/?p=4092&lang=en.