SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is promoting rabies prevention awareness and education by celebrating the first annual World Rabies Day, tomorrow, September 8, 2007. This year IDPH is seeing more bats with rabies. Bats are the primary carriers of rabies in Illinois.
“Typically in Illinois, 40 to 60 bats test positive for rabies each year. But this year we are seeing an increased number of rabid bats totaling more than 80,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Illinois Department of Public Health Director. “World Rabies Day is a great opportunity to raise awareness of rabies and rabies prevention by vaccinating pets.”
The World Rabies Day initiative is a global rabies awareness campaign spearheaded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Alliance for Rabies Control. The goal of World Rabies Day is to promote education in local communities and to mobilize and coordinate resources toward human rabies prevention and animal rabies control.
Despite being 100 percent preventable, it is estimated that 55,000 people die worldwide from rabies each year, approximately one person every ten minutes. It is estimated that every year 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. residents are potentially exposed to rabies and require human rabies post-exposure treatment.
“World Rabies Day offers all of us a unique opportunity to increase global awareness of the most deadly disease known to humans,” said Dr. Deborah Briggs, Executive Director for the Alliance of Rabies Control. “With the initial major effort being the declaration of World Rabies Day on September 8, 2007, events are planned throughout the world to increase awareness about rabies, and to raise support and funding towards its prevention and control.”
Events are planned throughout the world in at least 61 countries by international and national human and animal health organizations; human and veterinary public health professionals; non-government organizations; World Health Organization collaborating centers; universities; and corporate and private partners.
Veterinary students at the University of Illinois will be doing community outreach rabies educational programs for middle school to high school students in association with World Rabies Day. This activity coincides with one of the World Rabies Day Campaigns -Teaching to Make Rabies History.
“The students have been working very hard to help raise awareness about human and animal rabies and advance public health. We look forward to doing our part to reduce rabies transmission on a local level and contribute to the global reduction in rabies morbidity and mortality,” said Emily Eaton, Senior Delegate and President-elect of Student American Veterinary Medical Association.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Humans get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal or if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth or a wound. Without preventive treatment, rabies is a fatal disease.
Any wild mammal such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to humans. The animal does not have to be foaming at the mouth or be exhibiting other symptoms to have rabies.
Changes in any animal’s normal behavior such as difficulty with walking, or just an overall appearance of illness, can be early signs of rabies. For example, skunks, which normally are nocturnal and avoid contact with people, may appear friendly or ill and may approach humans during daylight hours.
A bat that is active during the day, found in a place where bats are not usually seen (such as in a home or on the lawn), or is unable to fly is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled. If you have contact with a bat or have a bat in an occupied building, please contact your local animal control and local health department.
Over the past century, rabies incidence in the country has changed dramatically. More than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually now occur in wildlife, while before 1960, most cases occurred in domestic animals. There is an average of one to two human cases of rabies in the United States each year, but no human cases have occurred in Illinois since 1954.
The following tips can help prevent the spread of rabies:
• Be a responsible pet owner. Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets. This requirement is important to not only keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection for you if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal. Consider vaccinating valuable livestock and horses or animals which will be exhibited in fairs or petting zoos.
• Keep pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat, seek veterinary assistance for your pet immediately.
• Call the local animal control organization to remove stray animals in your neighborhood.
• Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals. Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
• Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn.
• Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools and other similar areas where they might come in contact with people or pets. Information about excluding bats may be found at http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbats.htm.
For more information about rabies, log onto the IDPH Web site at www.idph.state.il.us/health/infect/reportdis/rabies.htm and for more information on World Rabies Day log onto www.worldrabiesday.org.