Protecting your kids from a dozen or so nasty childhood diseases has become a no-brainer. You take them regularly to where they get their shots and you can relax. Available vaccines are extremely safe and effective.
Protecting your kids from rabies is different – it’s up to you.
1. Rabies is caused by a virus. The virus is present in the saliva of infected animals. When a rabid animal bites, the virus is introduced into the wound, and then travels via nerve fibres to the brain, causing irreversible brain damage. Rarely, rabies spreads from the scratch of an infected animal when the paw is contaminated with that animal’s saliva.
2. Rabies leaves no room for error. Rabies is virtually 100% fatal if untreated. Optimum, prompt treatment is 100% effective. About 40,000 Americans, a majority of them, children need anti-rabies injections each year. The number of deaths from rabies in the US is down to one or two a year. For a possible exposure to a known animal – a pet cat or dog, for example – make sure that the animal’s rabies vaccination record is current.
3. Young children may be more at risk of rabies than adults. Children are attracted to animals and animals often seem to be attracted to children. Children may not report encounters with animals and, due to their size, are more likely than adults to be bitten around the head and neck. Skin in this area has numerous nerve endings, providing the virus with more pathways to the brain.
4. Instruct children to keep their distance from unknown animals. They should not pet, feed or photograph them. Hikers and bicyclers may be at increased risk. Never eat around monkeys; they may jump for food in your hands and bite/scratch you in the process.
5. Bats can cause rabies. Bat bites usually occur when victims are sleeping and in some cases victims are unaware of having been bitten. Bites are mildly painful and leave marks that may be easily overlooked. Seeing a bat in a bedroom – if you are unable to capture the bat – is sufficient reason to treat.
6. You must recognize when your child may have been exposed. Suspect all animal bites, licks and scratches until proven otherwise. Be suspicious if you find a bat inside your house or tent. Immediately report a possible exposure to rabies to your doctor, local health department or E.R. If exposure occurs overseas, especially in developing countries, check that the appropriate vaccines are available (see below).
7. Clean all bite wounds immediately and thoroughly. Wash for five minutes using plenty of soap and water. This reduces or eliminates viruses before they can enter nerve fibres. Then take the child to the nearest medical facility.
8. Experts must decide if vaccination is essential. Any mammal can be rabid. Generally, vaccination is NOT necessary if the biting animal is vaccinated, does not run wild, and is available for testing. Rabies from dogs has been virtually eliminated in the US, Canada and western Europe due to effective vaccination programs. Don’t overlook cats as a source of rabies (see kidstraveldoc.com). Check with a veterinarian before adopting stray animals. See list below of wild animals that may be rabid.
9. Optimum treatment requires two types of injections: rabies immunoglobulin (IG) and rabies vaccine. Both should be started immediately. One dose of IG provides immediate antibodies to neutralize the virus but is effective for only about a week. The vaccine requires a week to take effect. Three more doses of vaccine, given over a month, provide optimum protection.
10. Rabies treatment is safe and no more painful than other vaccines. Years ago, horse serum-derived vaccines were used. These required numerous injections, usually into the abdominal wall, were painful, and frequently caused side reactions, sometimes severe ones. In some developing countries such vaccines may still be used.
11. Rabies remains a serious problem in many developing countries. About 50,000 victims worldwide die each year, mostly in Africa, Asia, and South America. In these countries dogs are the most common source. Travellers to areas where rabies is prevalent, especially if they plan to stay for long periods or they are hikers or bicyclists, can receive preventive vaccination prior to traveling: this eliminates the need for IG, should exposure occur. In many poor countries IG is unavailable or of inferior quality. Check with your Embassy, if necessary.
Most common animals to be rabid in the US and Canada: •Racoons •Skunks •Foxes •Coyotes •Bats
Animals almost never rabid and not known to have caused human rabies in the US and Canada: •Squirrels •Rats •Mice •Hamsters •Guinea pigs •Gerbils •Chipmunks •Rabbits •Hares