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During my first year here with Sierra Veterinary Clinic, I have learned a few things about Stockton pets. For example, many “itchy” pets have allergies more challenging to control than my own, chronic ear infections are my least favorite disease to tackle, and the requirement of a Rabies vaccination before treatment can be a surprise to our owners.
I completed my studies in Ireland where rabies is not evident; however, every person knew about Rabies and the risk it poses. While this dangerous disease is most commonly noted and shown in dogs around the world, we all forget or tend to ignore the human factor.
As a robust virus, the infection spreads via saliva and invades the central nervous system. Once the symptoms are detected, and a diagnosis of rabies is suspected, there is no known treatment and the outcome will likely be fatal. Recognizing rabies risk is often difficult to note in the United States because the most common carrier that will cross our path is a bat. A bite from a bat usually occurs overnight and is so small it will likely go unnoticed. This can be seen most dramatically as domestic and wild animals are only diagnosed once symptoms are present or after they have passed away.
Due to the risks to pets, owners, and our staff, we have a policy requiring the rabies vaccine for pets to be up to date before we start treatment. Each week I have several conversations about the importance of Rabies vaccines, and some clients have even declined treatment due to this requirement. To better prepare myself and my clients, I decided to complete my own research and I found some information that surprised my family and myself.
All states are required to declare the presence of diseases that are a risk to public health, including rabies. Since 1987, California has been declared rabies endemic—meaning regularly found in the area—for all 58 counties. The disease is maintained in wildlife such as bats, skunks, and foxes. In the years 2008-2017, 23 cases of rabies were confirmed in the United States, and 3 of these cases were in California.
Many people, including myself, would think that the odds are quite a bit in our favor. Twenty-three cases out of the entire population of the US—currently at over 300 million—is almost negligible. To be honest, my interest is much more local to Sierra. The 2016 California Rabies Surveillance was posted, and in San Joaquin County we had one rabies positive skunk. In the surrounding counties, we had 38 positive cases, including two dogs and two cats.
Anyone who has ever had a job has felt the comforting arm of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I have been sent to urgent care for work-related hazards and can give first-hand experience to the tedium of paperwork and questions, particularly when a veterinary facility is involved.
OSHA mandates that staff members are sent to an urgent care facility for any injury which breaks the skin. We are additionally required to report if that injury is animal bite related. Here is where the rabies vaccines work in our favor: An animal bite wound reported to a healthcare professional is then mandatorily reported to Animal Control Services. Failure to follow this procedure puts all involved at risk of a misdemeanor, per the California Health and Safety Code. Once Animal Control has the information, it is at the discretion of the officer how far to take the regulations for rabies.
In California, all mammals susceptible to rabies are required to be vaccinated, and all dogs must be licensed. If not, a fine up to $1,000 may be ticketed at the discretion of the officer. All animals reported as biting a human must be quarantined either at home, at the pound, or at a veterinary facility for up to 10 days. Depending on the severity of the wound and the officer responding, a 5-day quarantine period may be allowed at a veterinary facility with an exam on day 5. Unfortunately, this is all at the owner’s cost and can be quite expensive depending on the facility chosen.
California Code of Regulations also gives the officer the right to enter and examine premises. Both Health and Safety and the Code of Regulations leave most of this to the officers’ discretion. In my experience, the livelihood and safety of our pets is best when they are up to date on vaccinations, as the risk of passing rabies is low.
Keeping you and your pets safe from rabies involves a few simple steps:
Take proper steps to protect your pet from rabies, and contact us immediately if you notice any changes in your pet.
California Health and Safety Code
California Code of Regulations