Rabies is a public health issue because it is a viral disease that is fatal in mammals, including man and domestic pets (dogs, cat, livestock, etc.). San Bernardino County and all 58 Counties within the State of California have been declared “Rabies Areas.” San Bernardino County Public Health Officials report selected rabies control activities to the California Department of Public Health for their annual Local Rabies Control Activity Report.” The San Bernardino County Animal Care & Control Program enforces the State laws that require all animals involved in a bite or scratch on a human to be quarantined.
Rabies is a disease caused by a virus (Lyssavirus) found in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to other warm-blooded animals, including humans by a bite, scratch, or possibly by contamination of an open cut. Deadly and costly, rabies ranks as one of the top zoonotic diseases in the United States and the world.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system (CNS), causing swelling in the brain and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general illness. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hyper-salivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (a fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
Rabies is a preventable disease. Modern day preventions have proven nearly 100% successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they are unaware of their exposure.
Over the last 100 years, rabies in the United States has changed dramatically. More than 90% of all animal cases reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now occur in wildlife; before 1960 the majority of cases were reported in domestic animals. The principal rabies hosts today are bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. The decline in cases of domestic animals is attributed to animal control programs and the vaccination of companion animals.
How You Can Help
Prevention and education are the keys to keeping you, your family, and your pets safe from the disease. Listed below are ways to prevent exposure.
- Vaccinate your pets. Dogs are required to be vaccinated for rabies at four (4) months of age. Cats can be vaccinated as early as eight (8) weeks old. The first rabies vaccine is effective for one (1) year. After that initial shot, your pet should be re-vaccinated every three (3) years.
- Teach your children to respect wildlife, but keep a safe distance. DO NOT feed, harass, or provide shelter for wildlife on your property.
- Report any bite or scratch from a domestic or wild animal to the Animal Control Agency for the area where the bite/scratch occurred.
- Report dead, sick, or nesting bats immediately to the Animal Control agency the animal is located in.
- DO NOT attempt to touch or confine the animal.
If Your Dog Bites Someone
If your dog does ever bite someone, it is important to make sure the victim receives treatment right away. It is also important to immediately contact your local animal control agency so a report can be filed. View our webpage regarding dog bites for more information.
Contrary to popular belief, your dog will not automatically be euthanized. Your dog will however be placed under quarantine (isolation) for ten (10) days so it can be observed for signs of rabies. This can be done at your home if authorities are satisfied with the containment area or it can take place at your local animal shelter. If after the ten (10) days the dog appears to be healthy, then the dog will be released from quarantine and will no longer need to be kept isolated (and can return home). The quarantine period is a safety precaution that allows animal control to contain possible rabies outbreaks. Rabies is a very serious disease that can be fatal to both animals and humans. On the positive side, there has not been an outbreak of rabies in the canine population in this county since 1948.