By Dr. Gary Borgman, DVM
Submitted September 4, 2018
I recently attended a continuing education session in Winter Park presented by an expert on the current state of Rabies in Florida, the US, and worldwide. No, we never thought Rabies was eradicated (that was just the catchy title to get our attention). Now that I hopefully have your attention, I want to relay some disturbing data. Each year, about 1-3 humans die in the United States from rabies but world-wide nearly 60,000 humans, mostly young children, die from this horrible disease!
The reason for these contrasting statistics is that many (but not all pets) are vaccinated in the US and public awareness of the deadly danger of exposure to bites leads to post-exposure vaccination of humans. There is no effective treatment of Rabies. The only way to prevent the disease is prompt vaccination of exposed individuals. Approximately 30,000 people receive these treatments each year in the US and it works. The most common source of rabies exposure to humans in Florida is from raccoons, bats, and outdoor unvaccinated cats. The popular feral feline “catch and release programs” in many communities, do help control the population but a one- time Rabies vaccine administration to cats does not protect for life. There are a lot of neutered/spayed feral outdoor cats who need regular annual or 3-year boosters for continuing protection against Rabies from wildlife and other feral animals.
The reasons for so many world-wide human Rabies deaths are multiple. There are a lot of countries with many un-vaccinated dogs. These dogs live and mingle with children. Victims of dog bites do not get post-exposure vaccine and once the disease develops, death is certain. There is no treatment for rabies in any animal, human or otherwise. The only answer for humans is prompt post-exposure vaccination of exposed victims.
I want to mention another horrible human disease which has been nearly eliminated from the face of the earth. In 1985, 350,000 people, mostly children, contracted Polio every year! Because of the Polio Plus program of Rotary International (a service organization of 1.2 million men and women), Polio has been eradicated in all but two war-torn countries with only 24 cases reported to this date in 2018.
At a recent weekly meeting of my local Rotary club, our district governor stated that Rotary International is looking for other world-wide needs to direct the efforts and funds in the future. I submitted to him that the world-wide Rabies situation could benefit from the resources of our international association whose motto is “Service above Self”. I plan to take this idea to other local clubs and hopefully initiate grass-roots efforts that can make a difference in the future. I have a new service project! I invite you to google Polio Plus for more information.
One final note. I would like to invite and encourage readers to access www.floridahealth.gov/rabies for further information about Rabies, and of course we always welcome questions about Rabies or any other pet health concerns at Kissimmee Animal Hospital (Tel: 407-846-3912) or Poinciana Pet Clinic (Tel: 407-518-0880). We are here to help and to serve.