Vaccination essential in protecting animals, human from Rabies

Thursday, January 12, 2012
Dr. Phil Daffron has protected his long-time friend, Pete, from rabies through vaccination. The vaccinations also help protect other animals and people from the deadly virus.

Rabies outbreaks in central Arkansas over the past month, in addition to outbreaks in Randolph County in recent years, serve as a powerful reminder of the potential for exposure to the deadly illness. Rabies is a viral disease which causes inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals, including humans. The virus is zoonotic, meaning it is transmitted by animals. The most common method of transmitting the virus is through the bite of an infected animal.

In humans, rabies is fatal if left untreated before the onset of severe symptoms. The virus affects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and eventually death.

To help limit the presence of rabies, laws have been established in the U.S. requiring rabies vaccinations for household pets such as dogs and cats. These vaccines are helpful for preserving the lives of beloved family pets, but play an even more critical role in stopping the spread of rabies.

"It's probably the least important vaccination for animals today, but it's the most important for humans," said Dr. Phil Daffron, owner of Crowley's Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Piggott.

Daffron pointed out the traits which make rabies unique are also what make it so dangerous.

"Most viruses are species-specific," Daffron said. "We don't give animals our cold viruses or things like that. Rabies, though, can affect any mammal, which is what makes it so dangerous."

Rabies is typically transmitted by wild animals. The most common animals to spread the illness are skunks and bats.

While rabies is uncommon in domestic animals, pets who are not vaccinated can fall victim to the illness, or even the the testing procedures.

"If an animal is not vaccinated and it bites somebody, it can lead to other problems," Daffron said. "For one, the animal may be quarantined for 10 days in order to examine it for any signs or symptoms of rabies."

More detailed testing results in the death of the animal being evaluated.

"Otherwise, the animal is sacrificed and its head is sent to Little Rock, where they check the brain tissue for rabies," Daffron said.

Though laws are in place requiring vaccination, there are many owners who do not have their animals routinely treated. While a one-year vaccine has been place for some time, Arkansas recently has allowed the use of three-year vaccines, which offer longer protection. The rabies vaccine uses a dead virus, eliminating the potential for exposure to the illness through vaccination.

"Rabies is absolutely one illness you don't take any chances with because it is an invariable fatal disease," Daffron said. "With the availability of the vaccine and the relative low cost of treatment, it's just senseless to not have your animals vaccinated. You're not only protecting your animals, but also yourself, your family and those around you."

While infected animals often show signs of rabies in the forms of overproduction of saliva and tears, any unusual behavior could be a sign.

"For instance, skunks are normally nocturnal animals," Daffron said. "It's not common to see them during the day. If you start seeing skunks during the day, it could be a sign that something's wrong. If you see an animal with pretty unusual behavior that might be a warning flag there's something wrong."

There were 60 rabies positive animals recorded in Arkansas in 2011, including 53 skunks, six bats and one cat. Thus far, there have been two positive identifications, both skunks, in Yell County in central Arkansas.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Department of Health advise residents to be cautious around any warm blooded wild animal. Pet owners are reminded to observe their animals, especially those who are kept or spend much time outdoors.

Persons who would like to have their animals vaccinated may contact Crowley's Ridge Veterinary Clinic at (870) 598-5145.

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