Working in the veterinary field, I have encountered hundreds of pet owners who claim that their dog or cat would “never” bite anyone. “My dog would never do that, he (or she) knows better!” claimed a pet owner who I posed the question, “Does your dog mind strangers or has he been known to bite?” Then as I proceed to examine their dog, the dog snaps at my hand(s) or face. Luckily, I know better but I still get a kick out of proving these “experts” wrong that their dog, is still an animal, and animals are capable of biting. Just because your dog or cat likes to wear a shark costume and ride around on a Roomba, doesn’t mean they’re not capable of biting and leaving more damage than just bite wounds. So, where am I going with this you ask? What does this have to do with Public Health, Health Risks, or Health Communication in general? Try all three!
Even though it is rarely reported and hardly found in the United States, Rabies is still a major public health concern that is often overlooked. To bring you up to speed, Rabies is a zoonotic, acute, viral disease that affects the central nervous system. Merriam-Webster.com (2016) defines “zoonotic” as a disease communicable from animals to humans under natural conditions; also defines “acute” as very serious or dangerous: requiring serious attention or action. Chernet and Nejash’s article (as cited in Blackmore, 2014) mentions that “once symptoms of the disease develop, it is invariably fatal and deadly viral disease that can only be prevented but not cured.” Depending on the species, presentation of symptoms can range, though generally we are talking days to weeks.
Now let’s forget the statistics and definitions; everyone (for the most part) knows about Rabies and what it is capable of. Can we all agree on that? Ok, good! My opinion to why this is a health risk: simple, a breakdown in public health communication. As an advocate for veterinary medicine, it is our job to inform the public and pet owner’s about this deadly virus and why it is important to properly vaccinate our pets. Since there is no anti-virus to protect us, prevention is key. The breakdown of communication results from the following, a.) Veterinary professionals are poorly educating the public or pet owners of proper vaccination protocols and the risks of animals who lack vaccination or b.) pet-owners de-value or ignore the professional advice, and fail to get their animal vaccinated because of cost or think “this is never going to affect my animal!”
Even though it is rare, Rabies is still being reported throughout the U.S. every year. All it takes is a bite from an infected, fox, raccoon, bat or any other wild mammal. Pet owners often feel that all of these vaccines that veterinarians recommend are just “money-makers” or ways for the veterinary practices to keep client’s coming in every year. Unfortunately, when their pets’ aren’t vaccinated and affected by these viruses that are highly-preventable; it is often too late for the veterinarian to save these furry family members. Treatment of suspected rabies cases can involve 10-day quarantines and even worse, euthanasia with the head sent off for laboratory testing of the brain if the pet was involved in any bite cases during the suspected rabies time-frame.
In summary, this deadly virus is very preventable. Veterinary professionals need to make sure they’re communicating properly with their pet owners on the risks that their pets and the public face, if their animals go without vaccination. Pet owners need to trust their veterinary professionals, vaccinate their pets properly and know that any animal can bite, and if infected, make a very bad day for the person who got bit. In the long run, the $15-20 Rabies vaccination is hands down the cheaper and safer route rather than risking a deadly virus upon you, your pet, and or the public.
By: Gerald Brenner
“Zoonosis.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
“Acute.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.\
Balcha Chernet and Abdela Nejash (2016) Review of Rabies preventions and control, International J. of Life Sciences, 4(2): 293-301