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Cats, bats can also transmit rabies

Monday, September 28 was the United Nation’s World Rabies Day. This date marked the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur, a scientist who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first effective rabies vaccine.

During the World Rabies Day, the United Nations and other international human and veterinary health organisations raise awareness on how to prevent the disease that kills more than 55,000 people worldwide every year.

Rabies is not a challenge in foreign countries only. In Nigeria, more than 10,000 people are still at risk of contracting this disease that is deadlier than HIV/AIDS. During the celebration, local human and veterinary organisations such as the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, K-9ine World Limited, Lagos Dog Breeders Club, etc., all came up with several awareness campaigns and free anti-rabies vaccination for pets.

Here is the myth and the truth about the common misconceptions of rabies:

Myth: Exposure to a rabid animal will result in death

Truth: Exposure to a rabid animal does not always result in death if the exposed individual promptly receives treatment. However, if symptoms appear before treatment, the disease will progress rapidly and the infection will probably lead to death.

Myth: A person who a suspected rabid dog bites will take 32 injections.

Truth: I heard this myth a lot when I was a child. However, I have grown up to find out that it’s not true. A person who is exposed and has never been vaccinated against rabies would get four doses of rabies vaccine.

The first dose will be given immediately, and another shot called the rabies immune globulin will be infiltrated around and into the wound.

Additional doses of the rabies vaccine will then be administered on the third, seventh, and 14th days. Altogether, that will be five shots.

Myth: Rabies injections are administered on the buttocks.

Truth: Rabies vaccinations are usually administered in the deltoid muscle (a rounded, triangular muscle located on the uppermost part of the arm and the top of the shoulder). This is the part of the arm where children are given immunisation.

Myth: All dogs have rabies.

Truth: Not all dogs have rabies. Rabies is only contacted by dogs when the virus in the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal or person enters the body through a bite, scratch or open wound.

Myth: All aggressive dogs have rabies.

Truth: Some dogs may be aggressive because aggression is a common behavioural problem in dogs. However, it is not all aggressive dogs that have rabies. Aggression is just one of the signs that are displayed by a rabid dog. Other signs of rabies in an infected animal include change in normal tone of barking, difficulty in swallowing, excessive or frothy salivation, unusual aggression towards people and stationary objects, and inability to coordinate the muscle movement.

Myth: A person who contacts rabies will bark like a dog.

Truth: The virus that causes rabies loves to live in the brain and spinal cord. So, in a rabid person, the muscles that are around the spinal cord (back bone) usually contract periodically. This gives the affected individual the same feeling as that of an athlete who has a ‘muscle pull’; but, this time, a ‘muscle pull’ in the back. The sudden pain causes the person to bend and stretch backwards. During this painful process, the person lets out a sound that is similar to when a dog is growling. That is why they say a rabid person barks.

Myth: A rabid dog is always aggressive.

Truth: It is not every rabid dog that is aggressive. Some may be calm. It all depends on the stage in which the virus has developed in the affected animal. In the early stages, the animal may appear anxious, aggressive or more friendly than normal. As the disease progresses, the brain becomes affected, and there may be paralysis of the nerves that control the head and throat. This paralysis will make the dog look dull and calm. Eventually, the animal goes into respiratory failure and dies.

Myth: If a dog that has rabies bites a person, it will die within seven days.

Truth: A rabid animal may live for up to 7-10 days before it starts manifesting the clinical signs of rabies. However, if the animal lives beyond the 10th day, it can be said with certainty that it was not shedding the rabies virus at the time that the bite occurred. If the animal dies before the 10th day, it can be tested for rabies. If the test is positive, a bite victim will still have enough time to receive post-exposure vaccinations and prevent the disease.

Myth: Only dogs can transmit rabies

Truth: Rabies can also be transmitted by cats, bats, humans and very rarely, cattle.

Myth: Rabies is only transmitted by bites

Truth: The virus that causes rabies is found in the saliva and brain tissue of an infected animal. So, rabies can be transmitted when the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal enters the body through scratch or open wound.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please do not hesitate to send me an email. Above all, please call or schedule a trip to the veterinarian to make sure that your pet’s rabies vaccination is up to date.

Have a splendid weekend.

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