Recent reports of a woman in Texas that "contracted rabies" are great examples of less-than-careful reporting. The headlines look dramatic, and a couple of articles state that a woman bitten by a puppy "contracted rabies", but it’s far from the truth.

Here’s the real story, as far as I can tell:

  • A litter of stray puppies was taken to a shelter and then sent to a foster home.
  • The woman who took them in was bitten in the leg.
  • She received medical care and took the puppy to a vet. The vet euthanized the animal because of the aggression it was displaying and had it tested for rabies.
  • The puppy was positive for rabies and the woman is undergoing post-exposure treatment.

It’s not a nice situation for the person that was bitten, but it’s not exactly a rare event and post-exposure treatment for rabies, when given properly, pretty much has a 100% prevention rate.

Authorities are also trying to track down any people that may have had contact with the puppies before they were taken to the shelter, to determine if more people need post-exposure treatment.

Strangely, the other puppies are being isolated for 45 days, after which time they will be put up for adoption (assuming they don’t develop signs of rabies). This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Standard recommendations are that unvaccinated animals exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized or quarantined for 6 months. The 6 month quarantine is in place because rabies can take a long time to develop after exposure. Since these puppies came in with the sick one, and it’s almost certain there was no information about their vaccination history, they have to be considered exposed and unvaccinated. This is true even if they were vaccinated at the time of arrival because they could have been exposed before vaccination. Further, animals are not considered protected until 28 days after vaccination, and exposure within 28 days of the first shot is the same as exposure of an unvaccinated animal.

In this case, it was pretty easy to determine that the woman didn’t have rabies in some, but not all of the articles. I particularly liked how one of the stories described how rabies "eats away at the brain," a description you wouldn’t expect to see from a more mainstream source.

Presumably, the woman who was bitten will be left with nothing more than some bad memories and an increased awareness of rabies. Hopefully the shelter reviews its policies to determine whether this could have been prevented and whether other measures should be in place to reduce the risk to people who foster animals. At a minimum, this would include ensuring foster homes know about the risks, know to get the animal to a veterinarian if it begins to act strangely (as this woman did) and ensure that other pets in the household are properly vaccinated.

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