Taking the bite out of rabies, one species at a time
For humans and animals alike, rabies infections can be fatal. Rabies surveillance helps facilitate better prevention and control of the disease.
Researchers from the United States recently published a study1 titled, “Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2019” in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association. This report provided the official statistics for animal rabies, the laboratory and epidemiological data collected in 2019 from 53 jurisdictions in America, an overview of rabies control in Mexico and Canada, and a review of rabies cases in North America from 2000 to 2020.1
The US has eliminated the dog rabies virus variant by stressing the importance of rabies vaccines to dog owners. Wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and small Indian mongoose are now the only reservoirs of Rabies lyssavirus. Humans can become infected with rabies after being exposed to infected wildlife or unvaccinated domestic animals. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is available and roughly 55,000 Americans receive it each year.1
Wildlife accounted for more than 90% of the animal rabies cases reported in 2019 with raccoons being the main culprits. Raccoons represent roughly 32% of all animal rabies cases, followed by bats, skunks, and foxes.1 Cases in bats and skunks have decreased by 15% and 9%, respectively. Rabid cattle cases have increased by 18%.1 Positive cases in domestic animals such as cats and dogs have also increased slightly.
In 2019, Ontario recorded 65 animal rabies cases—the majority of these cases coming from bats.1 Mexico recorded 74 animal rabies cases with the majority attributed to rabid cattle. In 2019, there were no human rabies cases or cases of canines infected with a rabies virus variant.1
A total of 52 cases of human rabies were reported in the US from 2000 through 2020.1 Eighty percent of these cases came from rabid bats. On average, patients lived 17 days after symptom onset. Only 3 survivors were reported.1
The main rabies prevention strategies in the US include encouraging vaccinating pets against the disease, providing animal control services, diagnosing animals suspected to have contracted rabies, and administering rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. There are currently no vaccination-based options for rabies control in bats. Rabies surveillance reports like this one help maintain public awareness of the risks associated with interacting with wildlife to ultimately, help prevent rabies in humans.
Isabella L. Bean is a 2022 PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut.
1. Ma X, Monroe BP, Wallace RM, et al. Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2019. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2021;258(11):1205-1220. doi:10.2460/javma.258.11.1205