Is Rabies on the Rise?

Rabies has always been rare in the United States. Each year, there are only between one and three cases of the disease. But that’s because the disease only shows up if it goes untreated. According to the CDC, about 40,000 people are treated each year in the United States for potential rabies exposure. However, in 2018, it looks like some areas are seeing a rise in the fatal virus.

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Is rabies on the rise in the United States? | Wavetop/iStock/Getty Images

What is rabies, and what does it do?

Rabies is a potentially fatal viral disease that affects certain animals and can be transferred from animals to humans. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of rabid animals through a bite. The bite needs to break the skin in order for the animal or human to be infected. According to the World Health Organization, domestic dogs most commonly spread the virus to humans; about 99% of human deaths are caused by dog-mediated rabies.

The rabies virus is no joke. In order to survive the virus, you must be given a series of shots soon after exposure and before any symptoms appear. A tingling or twitching around the bite, fever, headache, nausea, and fatigue are the first signs of the virus. At this point, the virus has already spread throughout the body, and the disease is almost guaranteed to be fatal. That’s why most people are treated even if they can’t confirm they were bit by an animal. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re properly treated, you’ll likely make a full recovery.

Can you survive rabies after symptoms appear?

The short answer is no. However, there have been a few cases of people surviving the disease without being treated ahead of symptoms. Fewer than 10 people in the world have ever survived the disease. In 2011, an eight-year-old girl became the third-ever person in the U.S. to survive. She was put into a coma to give her brain a rest, and her body was able to fight off the virus. However, the virus kills about 55,000 people each year.

Now, rabies may be on the rise

Recent data has shown that rabies cases in wild animals in the U.S. are higher than they’ve been in previous years. Arizona has seen a significant rise in rabies cases. By June 2018, more than 80 cases of rabid animals had been reported to the Arizona Department of Health. By that same time in 2017, there had only been 54 cases. The rates haven’t been that high in nearly a decade. Arizona is aware of an outbreak currently happening among wild animals throughout the state, and outbreaks definitely contribute to a rising number of cases.

Colorado has also seen an increase in rabid animals in 2018. The state had 88 reported cases of rabid animals in the wild in 2017, which exposed 113 domestic pets. Now, in 2018, the state is on pace to easily surpass last year’s 88 cases. Skunks seem to harbor the disease more than any other animal in the state, followed by bats.

Vaccines and close attention are the best way to protect yourself and your pets

For domestic animals, the rabies vaccine is the best way to protect against the disease. Most areas of the country require that domestic pets be vaccinated at least every three years. And for humans, paying close attention is vital. Make sure to tell your children to let you know if they ever come in contact with a wild animal. Since kids might not know the dangers of rabies, they might not say something if they get scratched or bit. Scratches don’t typically spread the virus, but always consult medical help if you come in contact with a rabid animal, and pay close attention to your surroundings. If you think you see a rabid animal, leave the area.

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