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An Update on Rabies

Dr. Rochelle Campbell

There have been several recent cases of Rabies reported recently in the Tampa Bay area.  Rabies is typically fatal in warm-blooded animals (including humans) and is caused by a Lyssavirus.  It is spread most commonly through the bite of an infected mammal.

Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes are very susceptible to Rabies and exposure to these species is considered a risk factor for Rabies.  In the U.S, cats are the most commonly reported rabid domestic species.

Rabies is most commonly transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal after it bites its victim.  The virus replicates in the tissue surrounding the bite site and eventually makes its way to the central nervous system.  Clinical signs of Rabies can begin anywhere from two weeks up to several months after exposure to the virus.  Signs of infection with Rabies can include (but are not limited to) a dropped jaw appearance, inability to swallow, paralysis, seizures, fever, sudden aggression/viciousness and change in bark(dogs).  It is important to remember that other disease processes can present with some of these clinical signs as well, so in addition to a thorough physical exam, your veterinarian will obtain a thorough history from you as well.  If it is determined an animal may be truly showing signs of Rabies, the veterinarian must contact the local health department.  This is because Rabies can cause death in humans and the proper precautions need to be taken. 

Because Rabies is a zoonotic disease (ie. a disease that can be spread from animals to humans) and it is fatal, it is extremely important to take precautions to prevent exposure and transmission.  One of the most important steps for prevention is to keep your pets updated on their Rabies vaccination.  Also, avoid interactions with highly susceptible animals, such as raccoons, bats and stray cat colonies and do not allow feeding or mingling of these animals with your personal pets. 

Rabies is a very serious illness and should not be taken lightly.  However, applying good common sense and general awareness will help keep you and your pets safe!