Take a Bite Out of Rabies!

Free-roaming dogs in Ethiopia with World Rabies Day logo

September 28 is World Rabies Day. Established in 2007, it aims to raise awareness about rabies and help the world come together to fight this dreadful, neglected disease. The theme for 2019 is ‘Rabies: Vaccinate to Eliminate,’ focusing on vaccination as a cornerstone of rabies prevention and control efforts.

In the United States, rabies deaths are very rare thanks to successful animal control and vaccination programs. But around the world, rabies kills more than 59,000 people every year. The most affected countries are in Africa and Asia, and almost half of the victims are children under the age of 15.

The good news is that rabies can be prevented through vaccination of both animals and people. On World Rabies Day, we can renew our commitment to eliminate human rabies deaths. This year’s theme is “Rabies: Vaccinate to Eliminate.” You can help by keeping pets up to date on their rabies vaccination, and learning more about when to talk to a healthcare provider about postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), which includes vaccination.

Boy and dog riding in car together

The U.S. has been successful in eliminating canine rabies. Take steps to prevent rabies in your pets!

The Challenge of Rabies

Viruses that cause rabies are present on every continent except Antarctica. People usually get rabies when they are bitten by an animal that has the virus. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear, but rabies in people is 100% preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care.

Canine rabies (which spreads between dogs and occasionally to people) is the cause of 98% of human rabies deaths worldwide. While the U.S. successfully eliminated the canine rabies virus, we still need to keep our dogs and cats vaccinated to prevent this kind of virus from coming back, and to protect our pets from getting rabies from wildlife.

Unfortunately, canine rabies is not controlled in many parts of the world and continues to threaten the health of people and animals in these areas. In many countries, most dogs are unvaccinated and allowed to roam freely. When these dogs get rabies, they can pass the virus to their owners, family members, or neighbors. CDC disease detectives and scientists are working around the world to help start programs to better control rabies. Scientists have shown that once 70% of dogs are vaccinated, rabies can be successfully controlled in an area and human deaths can be prevented. Vaccination of dogs is the best way to prevent human deaths.

Vet examining Jack Russell Terrier

Be sure to take your cats and dogs to the veterinarian each year.

Racoon

In the US, rabies is most commonly found in bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

Bat

Contact with infected bats is the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the US.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Others from Rabies

Whether you are a pet owner, a parent, an outdoor adventurer, or a global explorer, there are steps you can take to keep yourself and your family safe from rabies throughout the year.

1. Take Pets to a Veterinarian for Their Rabies Shot

A veterinarian can make sure your pets – like dogs, cats, and ferrets – are up to date on their rabies shot and protected from getting rabies. All dogs and cats should be vaccinated around four months of age, and then again one year later. After these two shots, your veterinarian will develop a vaccination plan that is best for your pet and complies with local laws. This is important, since animals that have not received a rabies shot and are in contact with potentially rabid wild animals may need to be quarantined or euthanized.

2. Know When to Seek Medical Care

Rabies is 100% preventable with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that includes rabies vaccine and medications to fight infection, as long as people get PEP before symptoms start. If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched or are unsure, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses.

3. Protect Your Family Around the Home

There are things you can do around the home to help reduce the risk of rabies to you and your pets.

  • Keep your pets indoors. When you let your dog or cat go outside, it’s best to have a fenced-in yard and make sure someone is there to watch it and keep it safe. Use a leash when walking your dog.
  • Keep your pets’ food in a place where only your pets have access to it and keep garbage securely covered to avoid attracting wild or stray animals.
  • Understand the risk from bats. While most wild animals are found primarily outdoors, bats can sometimes fly into buildings. This includes your home and even the room where you sleep. Learn what to do when you find a bat in your home. There are also steps you can take to “bat-proof” your home.
    • Indoor-only cats can get rabies from bats in the home. It is important to keep all cats up to date on rabies vaccination, even if they never leave your home.

4. Keep Away From Wildlife and Unfamiliar Animals

In the United States, rabies is most often seen in wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family is to leave all wildlife alone, including injured animals. Do not feed or handle them, even if they seem friendly. If you see an injured animal, an animal that seems sick or is acting strangely, or a dead animal, report it to animal control or your local health department.

You should also avoid dogs and cats that are unfamiliar to you and your family. These animals may be in contact with wildlife and can also spread rabies to people.

5. Protect Yourself Before International Travel

Before traveling abroad, consult your doctor, a travel clinic, or your local or state health department about your risk of exposure to rabies and how to handle an exposure should it arise. When traveling, it is always best to avoid approaching any wild or domestic animal. In certain areas of the world, including parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, rabies in dogs is still a major problem, and PEP may be hard to get.

Rabies vaccination may be recommended before your trip if you are traveling to a country where there is an increased risk of rabies, especially if you may be more likely to come into contact with rabid dogs. You should also consider rabies vaccination if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors in rural areas or if you plan to handle animals.