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DOGS & CATS: Rabies And Typhus Make Headlines

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Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 3:00 am

I hope everyone and their pets are staying cool during the recent heat wave. 

There are two important diseases that pets can transmit to people that have made the headlines lately. They are Rabies and Typhus. 

Nearly everyone has heard of Rabies and overall it is well controlled in this country due to vaccinations. However, Rabies in pets is on the rise in the United States. Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day, a global health observance that seeks to raise awareness about rabies and enhance prevention and control efforts. 

More than 55, 000 people worldwide die each year of Rabies. Since 2007, World Rabies Day has been celebrated in countries throughout the world, including the United States.

Typhus, on the other hand, is not as well known but is becoming a bigger problem every year in Southern California, and Long Beach in particular. The Long Beach Epidemiology and Vector Control Programs are closely monitoring the increase in human typhus cases reported this year. Long Beach has already seen the same number of cases in 2012 as reported in all of 2011.

Murine Typhus is a rickettsial disease caused by a type of bacteria called Rickettsia typhi that is transmitted via fleabites. Fleas carry the bacteria in their feces, and often defecate while biting and feeding on blood. When a person is bitten by a flea and then scratches the bite, the bacteria from the feces can enter the wound and enter the blood stream. People become infected from fleas brought into the home by pet cats and dogs, or by rats, mice and opossums carrying fleas around the home. Transference of the bacteria through the eyes, nose, or mouth can also infect people, or inhaling crushed or dried feces of an infected flea.

In the last several years, typhus has become endemic in Long Beach. Although rates are still low (about two cases per 100,000 people), prevention is important as it can cause severe illness and hospitalization in some people. Symptoms manifest within six to 14 days after contact with the flea, and include fever, headache, chills, muscle and joint aches and rash. It is often difficult to diagnose because it mimics the symptoms of several other diseases. Typhus is treatable with antibiotics, and death is rare.

The best way for pet owners to protect themselves is to keep their pets on year-round flea prevention. Your veterinarian is the top source for information. 

Rabies also is on the rise in Southern California. 

So far this year, 45 cases of Rabies have been confirmed, according to the Department of Public Health. The previous record of 38 rabid bats was set in 2011. Typically, there are only 10 cases a year, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Los Angeles County’s newest record has prompted a warning from health officials: beware of rabid bats.

 Not many people recall that in the 1930s Los Angeles County was the site of the largest rabies outbreak in the nation, peaking in 1937 with more than 1,700 cases! Canine rabies was not fully controlled until 1956, when dog licensing required rabies vaccination. 

Cats are now the most frequently reported domestic rabid animal in the United States. The most recent yearly data from the CDC indicates there were 81 cases of Rabies in dogs and 300 cases in cats. 

Because of the rabies risk to cats and their owners, feline rabies vaccination is strongly recommended for ALL cats. Cat anti-rabies vaccination is recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) the California State Department of Health Services and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). 

As a responsible pet owner, do your part by having your pet vaccinated and use flea control. 

Dr. Greg Perrault owns and operates Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach.