The mere mention of the word "rabies" often brings to mind scenes from movies like Cujo or Old Yeller.
Rabies is, however, more than a movie fantasy for more than 55,000 people, worldwide, who die from the disease each year. Closer to home, here in Indiana, so far this year six Hoosiers have been exposed to rabies-positive animals.
That is why the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) is joining forces with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health in recognizing the importance of rabies prevention.
"Rabies is preventable," says Dr. Bret Marsh. "By taking a few precautions, in conjunction with the use of safe, effective and readily available vaccines for animals, this disease does not have to take its toll on any Hoosier person or pet."
Indiana state law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets older than three months of age to be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed, accredited veterinarian. Unvaccinated pets, if bitten by a rabid animal, must be euthanized or strictly quarantined for six months.
Although often considered a disease that primarily affects bats, these tiny creatures are not the only wildlife of concern.
Though less common in Indiana, skunks and raccoons are also known to carry the virus in some regions. Contact with all wildlife should be avoided-particularly any exhibiting strange behavior.
To prevent rabies in domestic pets, take the following steps:
* Keep your pet's rabies vaccination up-to-date. One year and three year duration products are available. Your vet can recommend which is best for your pet.
* Do not feed or handle wild animals. Make sure all trash and pet food is in animal-proof containers.
* Contact your vet if your pet is bitten or attacked by a wild or stray animal. Your pet will need a rabies booster, if the animal is determined to be rabid.
* Immediately wash wounds in running water for 10 minutes. Seek medical care right away.
* Cats or dogs that play with or carry bats in their mouths are at risk. If possible, the bat should be tested for rabies.
* If your or your pet is bitten or scratched by a wild or stray animal or pet, attempt to confine the animal, if it can be done without risk. Always wear leather or latex gloves when handling animals with possible exposure (dead or alive).
Rabies is caused by a virus that is spread via the saliva of an infected animal, typically through a bite or a scratch wound.
In a typical year, Indiana's state rabies testing laboratory will identify the disease in about a dozen animals.
In October 2006, Indiana reported the first human death from rabies since 1959.
The child died after exposure to a bat in the home. For more information about rabies prevention and safety, visit www.rabies.in.gov.