Friday, October 14, 2011

Rabies and its test: both fatal

"Rabies": a loaded, inflammatory word and generally for good reason. It's defined as "an acute infectious viral disease of warm-blooded mammals that attacks the central nervous system. It is believed to move from a saliva-infected bite wound through sensory nerves to the brain."

That's bad enough, but it gets worse. There's no treatment or post-exposure vaccination available for (non-human) animals; therefore, rabies is fatal to them.

Humans can survive rabies if treated before the onset of symptoms with post-exposure vaccinations and immunoglobulins.

"Rabies" becomes a big scare word when a human may have contracted it -- which can happen through a bite by a rabid animal. People have usually heard terrible tales about the series of shots they must go through if exposed to rabies.

It's worse of course for rabid animals, who will die. It's equally bad for animals suspected of having rabies who are tested for the disease: they too will die -- a fact that most people don't seem to know.

Rabies can be detected only in an animal's brain. Therefore, to test that animal for rabies, s/he must be killed. Once euthanized, the animal is decapitated, with the head going to a lab for the testing that will prove or disprove rabies was present.

The decapitation step is not necessary only for animals under 2 pounds in weight -- a bat, for instance, or a squirrel.

People who may talk casually about getting this or that animal tested for rabies should know what that entails: it means the animal must die, whether or not s/he then tests positive for rabies.

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