Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rabies: Everything You Don't Want to Know...but Should

Someone once asked (on a message board):

"My husband said a vet told him if a dog was not going to run loose outdoors where he would be in contact with other animals, then it did not need to be vaccinated. Is that true? We have a fenced back yard. and he is going to be a lap dog not a yard dog...

My answer to her was this:

This might be right, EXCEPT in the case of rabies vaccinations.

Once upon a time, I thought along the same lines, as this veterinarian did until I had an experience with a rabid skunk...

My animals have always been confined to either my home, or a well-fenced in yard, at all times. Imagine my surprise when a rabid skunk made contact with my large unvaccinated dogs THROUGH the chain-link fence. I will leave out the nasty details, but will tell you that I went through the standard rabies treatment.

Less than five years later, we had a second experience with a rabid skunk. A storm blew a tree down on top of the 6 ft. tall chain-link fence, providing a perfect "ladder" for a rabid skunk to climb into my fenced yard, where my dogs were.

Unknown to me at the time, the skunk hid in a hole under the doghouse in the yard. I kept smelling a weird faintly skunky smell, but it was not very strong. I never dreamed a skunk was actually IN the yard! Then one day, a couple of weeks after the storm blew the tree down on the fence, I found a freshly killed skunk near the doghouse. It was badly mangled, and covered with old and new injuries. Apparently it managed to survive by sneaking past the dogs as they slept, to get to their food and water.

While I was waiting for the rabies test results to come in, one of the animals started displaying signs of rabies...Long story short, the rabies test came back positive, and I had to go through the treatment a second time.

At the time, I didn't know that because I had been previously treated for rabies, I only needed TWO booster doses, not the full ten shot regimen again. Not one nurse or doctor at the hospital or at the clinic, bothered to read the dosage and usage guide that is included with each treatment syringe! If someone had read it, they would have seen the information regarding the required two-dose regimen, and I would not have been overdosed. Sad thing is, one of the doctors had given me the full treatment at his clinic the first time it happened, less than five years before. You'd think somebody would have known what standard treatment protocol was...

Naturally, I suffered from really nasty "serum sickness", plus some other bad stuff because of the overdose...Well, so far, I have not bitten anybody yet. Heh. I know, bad joke...can't help it...must be dat Cajun in me...

Wait, there's more.

I feel obligated to share some other things I have learned...keep reading.

The following "factoids" can be easily researched through reputable universities, Kansas State Veterinary School (which has one of the busiest rabies labs in the country), and the Pasteur Institute, CDC, WHO, JAMA, etc etc. Just Google it/ call/ write them. Its all there.

Factiod #1--->>> In researching this odious subject, I learned that if your animal has a confrontation with a rabid animal, and the infected saliva gets on your animal's fur...AND if you happen to touch that area (even after the saliva has dried) within 2 HOURS of the incident...AND, if it gets into a cut or abraded skin, or if you accidentally rub it in your eyes or nose...BINGO. You could be infected with rabies. Only after the virus has dried on a surface for more than two hours, it is believed to be harmless. Until then, it is very much alive and dangerous.

While it is not good to be in morbid fear of rabies, it is a mistake to take it lightly, especially in view of so many well documented findings. Ignorance is not always bliss.

More rabies factiods:

Factiod #2--->>> Did you know that a skunk can carry the rabies virus, and pass it on to its young and to other animals, without ever appearing sick? Sometimes environmental or physical stresses can bring on full-blown symptoms, because of a compromised immune system. Otherwise, it is capable of appearing perfectly healthy--even bearing young--while passing the virus along to other animals. In many cases, a skunk first contracted the rabies virus when it was nursing from its mother...

Factiod #3--->>> Rabies in humans is more common than formerly thought. More than a few people who have died of rabies, died of neurological events of unknown or misdiagnosed origin. In many cases, post mortem exams uncovered the real cause of death: rabies (almost all of them have been the bat variant).

Factiod #4--->>> For that reason, the Center for Disease Control has made this recommendation to all state health (rabies) departments: If a bat has been found in the same room with an infant or sleeping individual, it must be caught and tested for rabies, whether or not bite/scratch marks are evident on an individual (the marks may be too slight or obscure for dectection). If the bat cannot be found, the individual is advised to begin rabies treatment.

I learned this the hard way, when a bat accidentally hitched a ride into my home, scratched my arm, flew off and vanished! On the third day, I caught it, had it tested. It was negative. Whew. That was a long three days, because if I couldn't find the darned thing, I was told by the local health department that I would have had to go through the rabies treatment for a third time. Heh. This time I knew I would have had to only receive two booster shots. Yay, to that, but because of my previous rabies history, which also included some nasty allergy responses, anaphylaxis (hypersensitivity resulting in shock) would have been likely.

I mention these things because rabies information can be dangerously outdated in just a year or two. So when in doubt, check and double check! Do not take a doctor's or hospital's word for it. They may be (unknowingly) acting on outdated information. Call / write / or email the CDC (Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA) yourself for the latest on it. My doctors didn't, nor did they bother to read manufacturer's usage guidelines, that are included with each box of rabies treatment. Wow, they threw ten of these brochures away. I "rescued" the tenth one from the trash bin. That's how I first learned about out all this.

Factiod #5--->>> To show you just how little doctors (and the rest of us) really know about this disease... Do you remember the cornea (& other organ) transplant cases that were in the news a few years ago because of rabies? The donors had died of rabies. At the time of death, the real diagnosis was unknown by the doctors. The recipients of the cornea (and recipients of other organs by another donor) all died of rabies, because of misdiagnosis. It was previously unheard of to contract rabies this way!

Factiod #6--->>> Another startling discovery: Live rabies virus has been known to survive in the poop of owls that have eaten rabies infected prey. The virus begins to die only after the pellets have completely dried.

Factiod #7--->>> For best protection, ALWAYS use the "killed rabies virus vaccine" rather than the "modified live vaccine", which has been associated with actually causing rabies in some animals, due to defective vaccines. Naturally, the killed virus cannot reproduce, and is deemed safe. Sometimes things go wrong with the "modified live" virus. It does not happen often, but why take a chance? Use only the "killed rabies virus vaccine".

Factiod #8--->>> Rabies virus can have a much longer incubation period than most people think. Medical journals contain more than a few cases where full-blown symptoms did not develop until months after exposure to the pathogen. There have been a few rare cases of incubation periods lasting for years before symptoms were presented.

In a nutshell:

1. Even if you think your animals will never, ever contact another animal (that you know of), please vaccinate your animals against rabies.

2. Only after the virus has dried on a surface for more than two hours, is it believed to be harmless.

3. Ignorance is not always bliss.

4. A skunk can carry the rabies virus, and pass it on to its young and to other animals, without ever appearing sick.

5. If a patient is suffering from neurological distress of serious magnitude, and is not responding to conventional treatment, investigate the possibility of rabies infection.

6. Bats are very beneficial for the ecosystem as insect eaters, but they may not be so good for your system. Stay away from them.

7. Doctors and nurses are not gods, and can make mistakes. Sometimes really stupid ones, too. Don't be afraid to double check. If they don't like it...well, tough.

This copyrighted material may be reprinted by you for noncommercial use, if the following credit is given:

This article is an excerpt from Mrs. Tightwad's Handbook #1: HOW TO SURVIVE DISASTERS AND OTHER HARD TIMES. For more information, see the left sidebar on this site:

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