Rabies is a virus which causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which is spread through saliva through an open wound in broken skin.
From the time of exposure to the onset of symptoms (known as the incubations period), is about one month in humans, and three to eight weeks in dogs and cats. The virus is only treatable during the incubation period. If left untreated and symptoms arise, the virus is untreatable and death is certain.
Symptoms in humans include: difficulty swallowing, slight or partial paralysis, increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing, hydrophobia, insomnia, anxiety, and confusion.
A dog infected with rabies will start to exhibit symptoms of nervousness, apprehension, anxiety, and fever. After a few days of these symptoms, the infected will dog will start to become more aggressive, irritable, and vicious. The infected dog will eventually become more disoriented, show signs of paralysis and labored breathing, and will eventually die of respiratory failure.
Each year, around 55,000 people die of rabies worldwide. Thankfully, the United States has laws requiring pet owners to vaccinate their pets. Vaccination has eradicated rabies in some parts of the world and has reduced the number of cases of death caused by rabies in the US to around 3 to 6 cases a year.
Rabies is a preventable disease due to vaccination, which is the best way to combat rabies. In a nut shell, a vaccine is used to help the body prepare for future contact with a disease causing pathogen. After receiving a vaccine, the body is more able to identify a pathogen, which results in shorter duration of illness or no illness at all.
In the rabies vaccine for dogs (the particular product called Rabvac 3) contains a “dead” virus which cannot replicate or cause disease. A substance called an adjuvant (typically composed of aluminum) is added to the vaccine to elicit an immune response from the body. More antibodies are created as a result of the immune response created by the adjuvant. The vaccine also contains neomycin and polymyxin, which are antibiotics. Amphotericin B is added as an antifungal. The ingredient thimerosal is added as a preservative, antifungal, and antiseptic to extend the shelf-life of a vaccine and to keep other pathogens out.
In Omaha, dogs, cats, and mini-pigs are required to be vaccinated for rabies every three years. Every local government has their own laws. If you live in the Omaha area, be sure to check out the Nebraska Humane Society’s page about responsible pet ownership. It explains when your animal needs to be vaccinated as well as other general city ordinances for which pet owners should be aware.