The first recorded case of rabies dates back to 23rd century BC. Rabies is caused by the rabies virus, of which there are distinct strains named after the species or geographic region in which it was originally found. Skunks, raccoons, fox, and many species of bats have their own rabies variants. Dogs are historically, and currently, the primary source of rabies in developing countries. However, in North America wild animals are the primary carriers of rabies.
The number of people that die from rabies each year is over 55,000. Most of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia due to contact with infected dogs. In the United States, most cases of rabies come from bats, with raccoons being second. Cats are more likely to contract rabies than dogs because cat owners are less likely to vaccinate than dog owners. In 2007, the canine variant of rabies was eradicated from the United States because of successful vaccination programs. Domestic animals imported from other countries and stray animals pose the greatest risk of rabies exposure.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed from animals to humans. The most common way it is passed is through bites or scratches from an infected animal, but it can also be spread into open wounds or mucous membranes through saliva of an infected animal. Clinical signs include lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, restlessness, confusion, lameness, weakness, paralysis, aggression, self-mutilation, seizures, and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
If you frequently work with at-risk animals, it is wise to obtain a rabies vaccination for yourself. For pets, keep them up-to-date on rabies boosters as suggested by your veterinarian. An animal with current rabies boosters is much easier to treat than an unvaccinated animal. A vaccination can be provided after exposure for humans and vaccinated pets. Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals, especially feral cats and wild animals. If you suspect you, or your pet, have been exposed to rabies, it is vital to contact a doctor or veterinarian immediately. Call animal control if you have issues with feral cats or wild animals in your neighborhood.