For those who haven’t had their pets updated on rabies vaccinations, or who have just skipped the shots entirely, now is the time to think about scheduling that appointment with the veterinarian.
Handed down from the Washington State Board of Health last year, WAC 246-100-197 requires pet owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to receive up-to-date rabies vaccinations beginning Jan.1, 2012.
Rabies is a deadly virus that infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Any mammal can contract rabies and it is often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.
“Of course I get my animals vaccinated,” says Gifford resident, Toby Kilman. “I’ve seen Old Yeller and Cujo. I know how those stories end.”
However, according to the Washington State Department of Health, bats are the only animals in Washington known to carry rabies. The last reported case of a domestic animal having rabies in Washington was in 2002 when a rabid bat bit a pet cat. The last reported cases of people with rabies in Washington were in 1995 and 1997. In both cases the victims died.
Health officials stress every mammal is potentially at risk, even though the disease is mainly seen in small wild animals, such as bats, skunks and raccoons. In other parts of the country, the disease has also been found in coyotes and foxes.
One of the easiest diseases to prevent
“In 2007, a puppy that had been imported from India came through Washington State on its way to Alaska and it turned out the puppy had rabies,” says Dr. Ron Wohrle, Public Health Veterinarian for the Washington State Department of Health. “Several people had been exposed to the puppy during its stay in Washington and had to be treated as a result.”
New Mexico is currently experiencing one of the most concentrated outbreaks of rabies in decades with 32 animals testing positive for rabies since January. The outbreak has resulted in more than a dozen people undergoing treatment for possible exposure to the virus.
“It’s a shame, because while it’s one of the deadliest diseases if contracted, it’s also one of the easiest to prevent,” says Dr. Jessica Adams of Chewelah Veterinary Clinic. “You can’t guarantee that your pets or livestock will have no exposure to rabies, but the vaccination is 100 percent effective.”
According to Dr. Adams, the clinic has seen a spike in the number of customers bringing pet cats and dogs in to receive rabies vaccinations as com¬pared to last year. In 2011, Chewelah Veterinary Clinic vaccinated 207 dogs and 36 cats against the disease. So far in 2012, the clinic has vaccinated 366 dogs and 82 cats.
The first rabies vaccination is usually administered when the pet is three to six months old and it is good for up to one year. If the animal promptly receives a booster shot a year later, the vaccination will last for three years. Rabies vaccinations cost anywhere from $7 to $20, depending on the veterinary clinic.
at state level
According to Colville Animal Hospital receptionist Roxanne Frostad, rabies vaccinations are up 30 percent from what they were last year.
When it comes to enforcement of the new rule, there is none at the state level. While the City of Colville doesn’t register cats or ferrets, Mayor Deborah Rarrick says dog owners are required to show proof of vaccination (rabies tag) before they can register their pet.
“Our enforcement efforts concerning rabies are educational in nature, but we don’t have the resources to enforce a law that looks over pet owners’ shoulders to make sure their animals are receiving a rabies vaccination,” says Matt Schanz, Environmental Health Director at Northeast Tri-County Health District.
Schanz added that Northeast Tri-County Health District becomes involved when a domesticated animal bites a person without provocation.
The animal is required to be placed under a 10-day quarantine at the owner’s expense, whether it is on the owner’s property in a space where it will have no contact with other animals or humans, or at a veterinary clinic. If the animal is found to be rabies free, the owner is still required to have the animal receive a rabies vaccination. If the animal shows symptoms of the disease (anxiety, stress, tension, drooling and excitability, etc.), the animal is euthanized and the head is sent to the Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline to test the brain.
“What makes rabies so frightening is that once you get it, you’re done,” says Dr. Adams. “There’s treatment for it if you have been exposed to it, but once a person or animal starts showing clinical signs, you’re up a creek. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but that’s just how it is.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 55 000 people die of rabies every year worldwide and dogs are the source of 99 percent of human rabies deaths. If a person believes they have been exposed to the rabies virus, a series of treatment shots is available, but the shots must be administered following exposure. Cost for the full series of shots ranges from $1,600 to $5,000 and is usually not fully covered by health insurance, says Dr. Wohrle.
“That’s why the vaccination is just a way to prevent disease and save money,” Dr. Wohrle states.