Rabies study promises to help close gaps


Research offers hope for pets that are behind on boosters.

When a dog that was only days overdue for its rabies booster was bitten by a rabid skunk, the owner, according to published news stories, was forced to make the painful decision to end her dog's life through euthanasia. Stories like this prompted a study in the Jan. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association about the options veterinarians and public health officials have available to them when faced with similar situations.

“We get calls like this-if not weekly, then every other week,” says Mike Moore, DVM, project manager for the rabies lab at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the report's lead author, in an AVMA press release. “I was a practicing veterinarian for 23 years, and it's really, really sad for me not to be able to help these people.”  

The study shows that pets whose rabies vaccination was considered out of date at the time of exposure responded well after receiving an immediate booster and did not develop any signs of the illness. The authors hope that the findings bring some clarity to guidelines that currently call for such animals to face lengthy periods of quarantine or be euthanized.

 “Up to now, there hasn't been any scientific data presented for animals that are out of date on their vaccinations,” Moore says. “Public health officials didn't have any measurable way to make their decision. Our results show that the two groups of animals-those that are out of date and those that are up to date-respond the same, and we feel they should be treated the same. If animals considered out of date have been primed with an initial vaccine, then when they're boostered after exposure, their titer goes up really high, really fast, and that's what we want in the case of exposure to rabies.” 

“Hopefully this closes the gap,” says report co-author Rolan Davis, reference diagnostician at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory rabies lab. “The one paying the ultimate price in situations like this is the pet. It's our hope that people will report every instance of possible exposure to rabies and not be penalized if they are five days overdue.” 

The authors are careful to point out that all pets should be vaccinated at the appropriate age and should receive regular boosters. The study, while providing hope to pets considered out of date who have been exposed to rabies, also reinforces the critical importance of that initial rabies vaccine.

Click here to listen to an AVMA podcast that includes Moore talking about the rabies study.


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