Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird, tells of the day Scout Finch spotted a “mad dog” named Tim Johnson. “She [Calpernia] followed us beyond the Radley Place and looked where Jem pointed. Tim Johnson was not much more than a speck in the distance, but he was closer to us. He walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs. He reminded me of a car stuck in a sandbed.”
More than 6,000 cases of rabies in animals are reported every year in the mainland United States, with the majority of those cases reported in wild animals, including raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. A Georgia donkey was diagnosed with rabies in 2011, and a rabid deer was reported in Minnesota in 2012. More than 15 million people worldwide (40% of them children) receive post-exposure vaccinations every year. Dog and bat bites are the most common sources of rabies in humans. In Pima County alone, 62 bats and 10 skunks tested positive for rabies in 2014.
Emile Roux and Louis Pasteur had been working on a killed vaccine for rabies, produced from infected rabbits. They had tested their vaccine on approximately 50 dogs, with good results. But in 1885, Pasteur met Joseph Meister, a nine-year-old boy who had been severely mauled by a rabid dog. Pasteur was a bacteriologist, not a physician, and he faced legal troubles if he treated a human being with his vaccine. But Joseph’s mother knew that the boy faced certain death, and she pleaded with Pasteur to try the vaccine. The boy survived, and Pasteur was lauded as a hero. In the year following, Pasteur treated hundreds of patients from Europe and America.
Usually transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain. As in Lee’s book, rabies does not always present with the well-known symptoms of salivating and frothing at the mouth. Symptoms include fever, excitability, rigid limbs, confusion, fear of water, and loss of consciousness. Once symptoms have developed, the outcome is nearly always fatal. It can take one week to as long as one year for the virus to travel to the central nervous system.
Recently an owner took his unvaccinated collie to a Texas dog park; the dog made contact with several dogs in the park and was in close proximity to a volleyball court. The dog was not showing any symptoms of illness at the time, but less than a week later he began to exhibit symptoms and tested positive for rabies.
Don’t wait to see the symptoms! The Arizona Game and Fish Department states that at least three strains of rabies are circulating in the state, including grey fox, skunk and big brown bat strains. Encanto Pet Clinic veterinarians and staff want you to understand the importance of having your pet vaccinated against rabies. The staff is happy to answer your questions about your pet’s vaccination schedule, or to set up an appointment for an exam.
Possible symptoms of rabies:
- Personality or behavior changes
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in or aversion to water
- Abnormal behavior
- Loss of coordination in the tongue or jaw
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Weakness or rigidity in the legs
- Drooling or excessive salivation