World Rabies Day Today; Equine Vaccination Key to Prevention

Today is World Rabies Day, a global cooperative effort to spread the word about rabies as a risk to human and animal health.

The World Rabies Day effort began in 2006, when a group of researchers and professionals formed a global Alliance for Rabies Control. They created and began inviting partners to join the World Rabies Day initiative, which now involves human and animal health partners at the international, national, state/provincial, and local levels. The goal of this outreach is to mobilize awareness and resources in support of human rabies prevention and animal rabies control.

With the initial goal of engaging 55,000 people to take action, one for each person who dies each year from rabies, the inaugural campaign on Sept. 8, 2007, saw participation of nearly 400,000 individuals from at least 74 countries. The overwhelming response was an important step forward for rabies prevention and control and further illustrates the widespread recognition of the need for action to control this easily preventable disease.

Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to animals and humans. The disease is transmitted mainly by bite, but exposure can also occur through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva from an infected animal. Once neurologic symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans.

Rabies prevention starts with the animal owner. Protect yourself, your animals and your community by having you animals vaccinated. Avoid stray animals and wildlife. If you are bitten, wash bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. If your animal is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop rabies infection and/or prevent the disease in humans and animals.

Rabies in horses presents a particular danger, as the clinical signs can vary widely. Some horses might look colicky, have nonspecific lameness, or appear to be choking. It can take months for clinical signs to appear after exposure occurs. Often multiple people are exposed in the course of attempting to diagnose the animal.

"It is said that an infected rabies patient can present without any consistent rules regarding the clinical presentation," wrote Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, in Rabies Danger, Exposure Cost Reinforce Equine Vaccination Need. "Classically, there are two forms of clinical signs, the more common 'dumb' or stuporous form, and the dreaded 'furious' form, in which the host is on the attack. More rare presentations have been lameness, colic, muscle stiffness, recent poor performance, incoordination (ataxia), and a host of nondescript signs that in hindsight confirm the lack of continuity to the disease until progression leads to obvious nervous system involvement.

"Exposure to rabies includes any threat of contact with saliva, especially to mucous membranes or open wounds. Officials might require that animals suspect for rabies (if not euthanized or dead) be quarantined for up to six months. Confirmation of rabies requires examination of the brain for the histological presence of Negri bodies (round or oval inclusion bodies seen in the cytoplasm and sometimes in the processes of neurons of rabid animals after death) or antibody tests that adhere and illuminate the virus with fluorescent antibody. Rabies is a reportable disease and human exposure will be treated with vaccination and the use of antiserum. Prevention in humans--including those at high risk for exposure, such as veterinarian-- is by vaccination," Byars noted.

Read more about rabies in horses and see a map of World Rabies Day events planned worldwide.  

You can also watch a free new Webinar, "Equine Rabies: What Every Horse Owner Should Know."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.