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World Rabies Day 2015

Cute little fellow, but NOT a pet - he could be a carrier of rabies!
Harlequeen (Neil McIntosh) [Flickr]
Cute little fellow, but NOT a pet - he could be a carrier of rabies!

The animals that are most likely to carry rabies in your neighborhood are raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks.  Do not try to handle these animals and teach your children to stay away from them.


World Rabies Day is September 28th, a date selected in honor of Louis Pasteur who developed the first rabies vaccine. The last known human fatality from rabies in the United States was in 1994, but around the world the disease kills nearly sixty thousand people every year. That doesn’t mean that rabies is not a threat in this country. Most states require that pet animals be immunized yearly but in Alabama almost half of the dogs and about three-fourths of the cat population go unvaccinated for this deadly disease.

Last year in our state, there were 76 confirmed cases of rabies including 45 raccoons, 16 bats, and 8 foxes. One cat and two dogs were also found to have rabies. The danger in not having your pet vaccinated is that rabies is zoonotic – it can spread from animals to people. If caught early, rabies is treatable with a series of four injectionsover a fourteen-day period. Untreated, the virus is one hundred percent fatal in humans.

When your pet goes outside, even in your fenced yard, it is very possible to have an encounter with a rabies-carrying animal. In our neighborhood we have noticed an increase in the raccoon population. They are so cute and seem to be friendly, but they can pose a serious danger to your dog or cat. And earlier this year, rabid bats were reported inside a home in Pell City and a building on the campus of Alabama A&M University in Huntsville.

So what can you do to protect your pet, yourself and your family from rabies? Start by having your dog, cat or ferret vaccinated. Vaccinations are also available for horses and livestock. Don’t leave open garbage cans outside that might attract wild or stray animals to come into your yard or near your home. And if you or a family member or a pet is bitten, report it to your county health department right away.

Rabies is preventable, but your furry four-footed family members are counting on you to keep them safe from this deadly virus, when we’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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