Rabies has almost been eliminated in the United States - almost, but not entirely. Every year there are still one or two human deaths from the disease, and several thousand cases of rabies in animals reported.
Louis Pasteur was a nineteenth century French chemist and microbiologist who discovered a process to preserve beverages; that process, named for him, is called “pasteurization. In addition, he developed a number of vaccines for diseases such as cholera, anthrax, smallpox and tuberculosis.
When he was 60 years old, he decided to address the problem of rabies, and three years later developed a vaccine. His first human test subject was a 9-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. After receiving the vaccine, the boy survived and never contracted the fatal disease – and Pasteur became a national hero. Pasteur died at the age of 72 on September 28, 1895.
More than one hundred years later, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established World Rabies Day, observed every year on September 28th, the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death. The goal is to increase awareness and mobilize resources around the world to save lives.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread from animal to human. The virus can attach the brain and nervous system, and can still be fatal, especially without prompt treatment unless the victim has been vaccinated against the disease.
Bats are among the most common carriers of rabies in the United States, along with skunks and raccoons. Many of us have our pets vaccinated against rabies, in part because it’s required by law. That’s why, of the several thousand cases of animal rabies reported in the U.S. each year, most are wildlife, with only a handful of human cases reported. Elsewhere in the world, rabies kills more than fifty thousand people every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, where dogs are not routinely vaccinated against the disease.
The sad part is that rabies is so easily prevented, by vaccinating animals that come into contact with humans. If it’s been a while since your dog or cat or horse was vaccinated for rabies call your veterinarian this week and make an appointment. Join the rest of the world as we all work together to make rabies history, when we’re speaking of people and pets.