Human Rabies Vaccine in Short Supply

The United States is currently experiencing a severe shortage of human rabies vaccine, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Pre-exposure vaccinations of veterinary, animal control, game wardens, laboratory and other high-risk personnel are “on hold” until the vaccine shortage is resolved.

Ronald Warner, DVM, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said people need to be cautious around wildlife when camping or engaging in other outdoor activities this summer.

“We have active rabies in the top tier counties in the Texas Panhandle,” Warner said. “The Department of State Health Services office in Canyon this year has reported a total of nine infected animals in Sherman, Hansford, Ochiltree, Lipscomb counties.”

Warner added, “That exceeds the case total for 2006 and matches the total for 2007.”

Encounters, especially bites or scratches from bats, skunks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and raccoons are considered very high risk for rabies infection. However, bites or scratches from dogs or cats also can be dangerous as unvaccinated pets are often the most common link between wildlife rabies and humans.

“The biggest thing we can do to avoid exposure is to make sure that people have their pets vaccinated against rabies,” Warner said. “Do your best to counsel your children not to pet strange dogs and cats under any circumstances.”

Symptoms of rabies can vary, Warner said. Watch for signs that may include:

• Abnormal behavior or confusion. For example, nocturnal animals such as coyotes or raccoons should not be seen during daylight hours.

• Excessive salivation and aggression. However, not all animals with rabies will foam at the mouth. In some cases, animals will become lethargic.

If you or a loved one is bitten or scratched by an animal follow these steps:

• Wash the wounds thoroughly with plenty of soap and water and consult a physician as soon as possible.

• Secure the animal for observation or testing if possible.

• If an animal is killed, get it processed for shipment as soon as possible to reduce the chances of a “decomposed” test result.

• To reduce the chance of a “destroyed” test result, do not damage the animal’s brain.

• If an animal cannot be captured, but it remains in the area and can be observed for a 10-day period, that is an acceptable alternative to treatment.

“The treatment for rabies is expensive and long,” Warner said. Once a patient receiving treatment is given Rabies Immune Globulin Human (RIGH), a series of 5 shots is administered.

“Once a person is diagnosed with rabies, the virus is almost always fatal,” Warner said.

Source: Texas Department of State Health Services