, Newburyport, MA


April 6, 2012

The importance of rabies vaccinations

To the editor:

Rabies is one of the oldest zoonotic diseases on record. A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be spread from animals to humans. All mammals are susceptible to rabies, especially wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. Most people who are infected and not treated will die from the disease. Rabies in the United States has been controlled since the 1940s because of vaccination of domestic animals, but the spread of rabies into Massachusetts in the early 1990s has led to an increased number of cases of rabies in wild animals, which increases the risk of rabies exposure for humans and their domestic animals.

Humans exposed to potentially rabid animals must seek medical attention and receive post-exposure rabies prophylactic shots to prevent them from developing rabies. More than 80 percent of people receive these shots because of exposure to a rabid or potentially rabid dog or cat. In 2011, there were 69 dogs and more than 300 cats that tested positive for rabies in the United States. The best way to prevent rabies exposure is to make sure your dog and cat or ferret is vaccinated.

These are the current guidelines for rabies vaccinations: The first rabies shot is given at 3 to 6 months of age (ideally at 3 to 4 months of age); the second rabies vaccine must be given exactly 9 to12 months later to receive a three-year rabies vaccination. To have a valid three-year rabies vaccination for your dog or cat, you must have proof of two vaccinations exactly 9 to 12 months apart and your certificate must have a valid date. If your pet has not been vaccinated according to these regulations, or if your pet is one day or more overdue for its rabies booster, your pet is considered unvaccinated. Unvaccinated animals exposed (or potentially exposed) to any suspect animal will need to be quarantined for six months or put to sleep in accordance with state guidelines.

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