The CDC’s annual animal rabies surveillance report has been published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Blanton et al 2011). It’s the regular synopsis of the state of rabies in domestic animals and wildlife in the country. It contains some interesting information but few surprises. Among the highlights:

  • Rabies was identified in 6154 animals in 48 US states, plus Puerto Rico. The true number of animals that died of rabies in the year would have been much higher, since not all animals (particularly wildlife) that die of rabies get tested.
  • 92% of positive animals were wildlife, including raccoons (37% of cases), skunks (24%), bats (23%) and foxes (7%).
  • Cats were the most commonly affected domestic animal, accounting for 4.9% of cases (303 cats), followed by cattle (1.1%), dogs (1.1%) and horses (0.6%).
  • Different rabies virus variants predominated in different regions. For example, raccoon rabies virus was most common on the east coast. Different skunk rabies variants predominated in the south-central and north-central regions, along with California and Nevada. A couple of pockets of fox rabies were present in the southwest, along with one in Alaska. Mongoose variant was present in Puerto Rico. Bat variants were spread out across the country.
  • Most rabid cats were from states where raccoon rabies is endemic. About 1/3 of infected cats were from Pennsylvania and New York. Texas was the leader in dog rabies, followed by Puerto Rico and Virginia.
  • Two cases of rabies in humans were identified, compared to 4 in 2009. One was a migrant worker infected by a vampire bite while in Mexico. The other was a man from Wisconsin who was infected with a bat rabies strain. Both died.

Canadian and Mexican data are also reported:

  • 123 cases of rabies were identified in Canada, 93% of which were wildlife. 7 (5.7%) were dogs or cats. No rabid raccoons were identified, continuing a trend that has been observed since 2009. Bats and skunks were the wildlife leaders. No people were infected.
  • 357 cases were reported in Mexico. 83% were cattle, 20 were dogs. Four human cases were identified.

While rabies does not exert anywhere near the impact on people in North America compared to many other regions (where tens of thousands of people die from the disease every year), it continues to take its toll on wildlife and, to a lesser degree, domestic animals. It’s also a preventable disease that can be controlled with vaccination, and human cases can effectively be eliminate by proper post-exposure treatment. Continued efforts are needed to reduce rabies in wild and domestic animal populations, for both the protection of those populations and protection of the people who may come in contact with them.

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