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For Release: September 18, 2008
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

World Rabies Day 2008: Awareness is the Best Defense against Rabies

Rabies is the oldest and deadliest disease known to mankind, killing 55,000 persons worldwide each year. Globally, rabies is primarily a disease of children who are at particular risk due to their potential to be bitten by unvaccinated dogs. However, rabies is preventable and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is using the public health observance of World Rabies Day on Sunday, Sept. 28, to reinforce that message.

Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to animals and humans. The disease is transmitted mainly by bite, but exposure may also occur through contamination of broken skin or mucous membranes with saliva from an infected animal. Once neurological symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans.

The last reported case of human rabies in the United States was in October 2007 in Minnesota. In Oklahoma, the last report of a human rabies case was in 2004. This case resulted from transplantation of an organ harvested unknowingly from a person who died of rabies. The last animal-transmitted case of rabies to humans occurred in the state in 1981.

Animal rabies is a reportable disease in Oklahoma. Thus far in 2008, there have been a total of 32 cases, including 21 skunks, six cattle, one horse, two dogs, and two cats. Skunks are the major reservoir of rabies in Oklahoma.

Vaccination prior to possible exposure is a crucial part of health management of domestic animals, and is the single most important factor in rabies prevention, which begins with the animal’s owner.

“Remember to protect yourself, your pet and your community by having your animals vaccinated against rabies,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “Teach children to avoid stray animals and wildlife. If you are bitten, wash bite wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. If your pet is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately,” she cautioned. “Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop rabies infection and/or prevent the disease in humans and animals.”

Due to an interruption in production, there is a temporary national shortage of human rabies vaccine this year. In response to decreases in vaccine supplies, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requests that providers consult with the OSDH prior to beginning rabies post-exposure immunization treatment series. The OSDH Acute Disease service has an epidemiologist on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for consultation at (405) 271-4060.

“This vaccine shortage is increasing our appreciation of how fortunate we are to have an effective vaccine available to treat persons in our country who are bitten by a rabid animal. Citizens of many countries in the world do not have that medical luxury. Still, we must use vaccine appropriately to ensure that persons who are at greatest risk of exposure can receive post-exposure immunizations. And, we need to focus more on animal bite prevention,” Bradley emphasized.

Local events in honor of World Rabies Day include the Oklahoma State University's student chapter of the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s (SCAVMA) 5K “Run for Rabies” on Oct. 11. The OSU SCAVMA chapter run will take place at 8 a.m. around Boomer Lake in Stillwater. Participants are encouraged to run with their dogs. Runner registration is $20.00, and will include a t-shirt and light breakfast. Prizes will be offered to the top runners and their dogs with proceeds donated to the non-profit organization “Alliance for Rabies Control” (www.rabiescontrol.net). For more information, contact Alicia Davis at renee.davis@okstate.edu.

More information on World Rabies Day can be found at the official web site:

http://www.worldrabiesday.org/. For general information on rabies view this Web site:

http://www.ok.gov/health/Disease,_Prevention,_Preparedness/Acute_Disease_Service/Disease_Information/Rabies.html or http://ads.health.ok.gov.

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