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U.S. Soldiers and Rabies: Investigations of Post-Deployment Exposures

Posted: December 6, 2011

During August, 2011 a U.S. soldier stationed at a military base in New York became ill with symptoms compatible with rabies. Onset of symptoms occurred approximately three months following active deployment in Afghanistan. Diagnostic testing confirmed rabies and characterized a variant associated with Afghani dogs. In more than 30 years, no other rabies case has resulted from exposure during active duty.

During the course of contact tracing and investigating the soldier's exposure, additional soldiers were identified with unreported animal exposures, mostly dog bites. In response to these findings, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) initiated a collaborative effort to identify soldiers returning from active duty abroad that may have had unreported rabies exposures. Routine exposure assessment is being included in post-deployment evaluations of soldiers and efforts are underway to identify veterans who may have had an unreported exposure in the past 18 months.

State and local health departments should be aware that they may be contacted about soldiers undergoing rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) due to potential exposures abroad. The DoD and VA will soon provide guidance to soldiers on rabies exposure and administration of PEP. Recommendations should follow standard ACIP guidelines.

The VA, DOD, and CDC will continue to help ensure that health care providers, and all others who conduct risk assessments, follow appropriate recommendations, in order for affected soldiers to receive timely and effective care.

For additional information, see:
MMWR - Imported Human Rabies in a U.S. Army Soldier — New York, 2011
US Department of Veterans Affairs - Rabies Information 
ACIP Recommendations on Human Rabies Prevention

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