To the editor:
Rabies is one of the oldest zoonotic diseases on record. A zoonotic disease is one that can be spread from animals to humans. All mammals are susceptible to rabies, especially wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. Rabies in the United States has been controlled since the 1940s because of the vaccination of domestic animals. The spread of raccoon rabies in the 1990s has led to an increased number of cases of rabies in wild animals, which increases the risk of exposure for humans and their domestic animals. The first case of human rabies contracted in Massachusetts since 1935 occurred in December 2011. A Barnstable County man died after being bitten by a rabid bat. In January of this year, a Brookfield man was attacked by a rabid bobcat.
Rabies is 100 percent preventable. It is rare for a person or animal to recover once they have been infected by the rabies virus. Humans exposed to potentially rabid animals must seek medical attention and receive post-exposure rabies injections to prevent them from developing rabies. It is important to note that more than 80 percent of people receive these shots because of exposure to a rabid or potentially rabid dog or cat. In 2011, there were 69 dogs and more than 300 cats that tested positive for rabies in the United States. Unvaccinated cats and dogs exposed (or potentially exposed) to any suspect animal will need to be quarantined for six months or may need to be euthanized in accordance with state guidelines.
The best way to protect your health and the health of your family is to avoid exposure to rabies. Make sure your pet has a valid and current rabies vaccination. It is a mistake to think that a cat that lives indoors does not need to be vaccinated against rabies. As we say, “We vaccinate indoor cats against the things that can get in.” Nothing is more disconcerting than to come home and find your cat cradling a bat between its front legs. Bat bites are very small and may go undetected. If your cat is unvaccinated and the bat tests positive for rabies, you may be faced with a terrible decision.