Photo via Flickr.

The sight of a stray dog or cat is a daily occurrence in much of San Antonio.  While many dogs  have been quarantined following bites, none have been positive for rabies for more than 30 years due to required vaccination of pets. That changed this week when the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reported the first case of canine rabies in Bexar County in more than 30 years.  The dog was not a stray, but a beloved family pet.

Rabies is 100% fatal in animals but is fully preventable with vaccination. Texas requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies, receiving their first dose at three months, a booster at one year and then another booster every three years, according to Dr. Danette Schweers, staff veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Room.  Quarantining an animal with an unknown vaccination history is a huge expense to the owners, while vaccination can be had for as little as $15.

In humans, the disease is nearly 100% fatal without post-exposure prophylaxis, or vaccinations (PEP). Any person who has had contact with a potentially rabid animal must receive four or five shots in the thigh muscle over 30 days. It is painful, expensive, and time consuming. In the case of a family pet, every person in the household or who had visited the household and had potential contact with the dog’s saliva is at risk, all the more reason to vaccinate all pets and keep them up to date.

It’s tempting to save a stray animal, but before you do, contact animal control.

“I hate to see someone trying to help an unknown injured dog and gets bitten. Because no one knows the vaccine status, the only way to test for rabies is to euthanize the dog and analyze brain tissue. And then the person still has to get 4-5 doses of PEP,” said Dr. Schweers.

The continued circulation of rabies virus is due mainly to infection in wild animals, but that had been declining  thanks to The Oral Rabies Vaccination Program (ORVP) for wildlife.  Until 2012, this program covered between 21,200 and 33,700 square miles in Texas.  For the past three years, ORVP has focused on 2,500 square miles and in 2014, the Department of State Health Services confirmed rabies in 31 bats and one raccoon in Bexar County. While authorities do not know how the dog got rabies or which strain it had, the dog had a wound which could have come from a wild animal. While contact with wild animals is difficult to avoid, if the dog had been vaccinated, it would have been protected.

Metro Health and Animal Care Services offer the following recommendations:

  • Teach children that they should never touch wildlife or any roaming animal, regardless of whether it is living or dead. Children should be taught to tell an adult immediately if they see or touch an unknown animal in close proximity to people or pets.
  • Residents should also refrain from feeding, touching, or handling any wildlife or unknown animals.
  • If you or your pet makes contact with a bat, skunk, raccoon, coyote, or other wildlife, San Antonio residents are urged to call Animal Care Services at 311. County residents can contact Bexar County Animal Control at 335-9000.
  • Pets that come into contact with wildlife should be confined to prevent further exposure to people or animals. State law dictates that any actual or potential rabies exposure must be reported to the local rabies authority for investigation and potential testing.
  • If the unknown animal is within a home or building, keep the animal confined, but only if it can be done safely and without direct contact.
  • If at all possible, wait for Animal Control to respond and avoid striking the animal. Physical trauma can damage the brain and make it impossible to conduct rabies laboratory tests.

Animal Care Services offers low cost vaccinations clinic every Monday at the shelter located at 4710 State Highway 151. The next scheduled clinic is Monday, Aug. 10 from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. and City of San Antonio residents qualify for free rabies shots for their pets. No appointments are needed.

*Featured/top image: Photo via Flickr.

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Cherise Rohr-Allegrini

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini is an infectious disease epidemiologist and consultant. She is currently the San Antonio Program Director for The Immunization Partnership. Dr. Rohr-Allegrini was the Pandemic Flu...