Rabies virus

Posted 10/9/19

Nearly two weeks ago, there was a stray kitten that had tested positive for rabies after biting its foster owner in Sullivan County, NY. Rabies is a devastating viral disease that affects mammals, …

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Rabies virus


Nearly two weeks ago, there was a stray kitten that had tested positive for rabies after biting its foster owner in Sullivan County, NY. Rabies is a devastating viral disease that affects mammals, domestic and wild. The virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal but can also be contracted via saliva alone. Once a person or an animal is bitten, the infected saliva allows the transmission of the virus to enter into the muscle of the victim. From there, the virus migrates to the nearest nerve tissue before making its way up the spinal cord to finally infect the brain. The overall process can be quite slow; in some cases, it can take a year for the victim to develop symptoms. Although the process can take one year, the average time between bite and detectable virus samples in the brain is 20 to 30 days. The time period from bite to symptoms depends on site of the bite in respect to the brain, severity of the bite and amount of virus in the bite.

Once symptoms are noted, treatment is nearly impossible. Symptom classifications are the “furious” stage and the “dumb” stage. In the furious stage, the animal becomes highly excitable and displays signs of severe hunger, chewing on inappropriate objects including eating rocks and dirt. The animal typically dies following a violent seizure. The other form is the dumb or comatose form. It is one of the more commonly observed stages. The animal develops progressive paralysis involving the limbs, distortion of the face and has difficulty swallowing. The patient eventually becomes comatose and passes away.

Rabies is a highly preventable disease through its widely available vaccine. The vaccine is available for dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cattle and small ruminants. Any other animal vaccinated for rabies is classified as an off-label use and the pharmaceutical companies as well as the FDA will not verify its efficacy. Dogs and cats are typically given an initial vaccination that is then bolstered 12 months later. The second rabies vaccination is good for three years if given under proper guidelines by the local health department and with the appropriate medical history. All other species that receive the rabies vaccine are considered immunized for only a 12-month period and therefore require yearly vaccinations. Only a licensed veterinarian can give the vaccine. If any other individual gives the vaccine, they can be subject to fines as well as jail time. It is very important to be sure that all your animals are current on their rabies vaccinations and proper documentation preserved for future reference.

If your animal comes into contact with a rabid animal, it is vital to seek veterinary care to address the wound as well as receive a booster vaccination. The booster must be given even if they had a vaccine as little as a week prior to the incident. If an animal is suspected of contracting rabies, a veterinarian is required by law to contact the local/state health officials. The appropriate authorities will then determine the necessary steps to properly protect the public. If an animal is suspected to have rabies and a current vaccination cannot be proven with proper paperwork, the animal may be euthanized and tested through the appropriate labs.

Currently, there is no treatment available for rabies virus, and therefore proper vaccination and preventing potential bite exposures is vital. All cases in which you suspect an animal to be rabid should be reported to the local health department. If you have questions regarding your pets’ rabies vaccine status, be sure to contact your family veterinarian.

Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC

rabies, vaccine


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