Rabies - Treatment, Control and Prevention

Clinical Signs
Treatment, Control,
  and Prevention
Human Health Risk


Once an animal is showing clinical signs of infection, the disease is almost invariably fatal, and no treatment is effective.  Disease can often be prevented by immediate post-exposure vaccination.  Rabies can usually be prevented by vaccination, and vaccines are available for most domestic species.  Rabies vaccine was first developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux and successfully used to prevent disease in a boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. 

Standard treatment for people that have been exposed is an injection of immune globulin infiltrated in the region of the bite as well as intramuscularly, followed by a series of vaccinations.  A series of five vaccines are administered on days; 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28.  Those which have been previously vaccinated are not given the immune globulin injection, only thevaccine vaccinations.  The immune globulin consists of  antibodies from blood donors given rabies vaccine.  The antibodies act as passive protection until the body's own immune system can start to produce antibodies. 

Any unvaccinated animal that has been exposed to rabies via bite or wound should be immediatley euthanized.  If the owner of the animal is unwilling to allow euthanasia then the animal is to be kept in isolation if it is a small animal or else under close observation if it is a large animal.  The animal should be vaccinated one month before release.  Post-Exposure Prophylaxis as is used with people is not used in animals. 

For more information refer to the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control

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Prevention and Controlanimal vaccine

No vaccines are available for wildlife kept as pets, and the oral bait vaccines which are quite effective in controlling rabies in wild fox populations are not considered effective for individual animals kept as pets.  Baited vaccines are not available privately - they are only available for public control programs, including their use in some developing countries to control rabies in dogs.  Some protection may be given by an injectable vaccine for another species, but the efficacy is not known.

Vaccination is not completely protective, as titers may drop off with time, the dosage at exposure may be too high, or direct access of the rabies virus to the nervous system may occur, thereby circumventing immune protection.  This may occur if inhaling air with a high concentration of virus-laden saliva, and the virus may enter directly via the olfactory nerves.

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Historically control programs focused on reducing populations of the local carrier species and limiting contact of domestic and wild animals.  Much of this focused on trapping and killing to minimize the risk of infection by reducing the carrier population.  More recently aerial distribution of bait containing an attenuated virus vaccine has been quite successful in wild foxes, but has not been efficacious in raccoons and skunks because much higher baiting densities are required, greatly increasing the cost.


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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recognizes about 25 countries to be free of rabies, of which Australia, Finland, Japan, Jamaica, Sweden and the United Kingdom are included.  Rabies has never become endemic in the United Kingdom.  It was eradicated from the dog population in 1902 and again in 1922 after it was reintroduced in 1918.  Presently, rabies free countries rigidly enforce strict quarantine periods for dogs and cats being imported. (Murphy et al., 1999)

Australia has always been free of rabies, lyssavirus 1, but recently lyssavirus genotype 7 was found in fruit bats causing rabies like disease.  There have been two human fatalities in Australia caused by this lyssavirus since it has been found.  (Coetzer & Tustin, 2004)

There are five components to surveillance and control. (Murphy et al. 1999)

  1. control of pet movement and removal of strays
  2. dog and cat immunization to break transmission
  3. laboratory diagnosis of suspected clinical cases to obtain accurate surveillance data
  4. surveillance to measure the effectiveness of control measures
  5. public education to increase public awareness and cooperation