Expose the truth about rabies to veterinary clients


As World Rabies Day approaches on Sept. 28, check out this technician's real-life encounter with a rabid patient-and learn safety tips that will keep your patients and clients safe.

Just because rabies cases aren't common doesn't mean they don't exist. Megan Koressis, RVT, of Yorkwood Veterinary Clinic in Keswick, Ontario, was working at a veterinary emergency clinic when a woman and her daughter brought in a kitten that was acting strange. "The kitten wasn't eating and there was something wrong with its eyes," Koressis says. "I'll never forget his wide, unblinking eyes. It seemed as though he couldn't see. Like he was looking through you instead of at you."

The kitten had a rough, puffed-up hair coat and was very sensitive to touch. "If you even lightly touched a hair, the cat overreacted by jumping back and biting or swatting," Koressis says. After the veterinarian examined the kitten, rabies went straight to the top of the list.

"Since we couldn't touch it without the danger of being bitten, we used an anesthesia tank. Once the kitten was asleep, we had to euthanize it," Koressis says. Testing the body confirmed rabies. The worst part: The rabid kitten had bitten the client and her daughter earlier in the day and nipped the veterinarian during the exam. Fortunately, the veterinarian was up to date on her vaccines but the client and her daughter needed post-exposure vaccines.

Koressis' manager even advised her to have a titer test done since she'd handled a confirmed rabies case. "My physician went into a bit of a tizzy when I showed up to request the titer," Koressis says. "I reminded her that I'd already been vaccinated and didn't get bit." Luckily, no veterinary team members, doctors, or clients suffered any ill effects.

That was the first rabies scare for Koressis, but it wasn't the last. Another client's unvaccinated cat caught a bat that had gotten into the house. The owner sent the bat to the public health department for testing and, unfortunately, the rabies test came back positive.

"The myth that indoor cats don't need rabies vaccines was proven wrong," Koressis says. The pet owner was in a panic about his cat getting rabies, but after some vaccinations, the cat turned out to be fine. "I don't think the patient hasn't missed a vaccine since," Koressis says.

There are roughly 7,000 cases of animal rabies reported in the United States every year, according to http://worldrabiesday.org. When you're educating clients about the need for vaccination, consider sharing these tips from the Global Alliance for Rabies Control:

1. Don't let pets roam free.

2. Spay and neuter pets to decrease undesirable behavior, like aggression and roaming.

3. Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals—even if the dog or cat appears to be friendly.

4. Be careful not to leave garbage or pet food outside as it may attract wild or stray animals.

5. Don't keep wild animals as pets. Period.

6. Always observe wild animals from a distance. Don't ever feed or handle them. Wild animals are never safe.

7. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to city or county animal control personnel and go to http://worldrabiesday.org for more information on how to protect your patients.

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